Join our four part seminar series exploring alternative strategies for governing data and the digital economy.
The power of platforms in the digital economy continues to grow. With competition enforcement and legislative action on the horizon, now is the time to reflect on what could be achieved through regulatory action in the information and data economy.
For decades, the information economy has evolved alongside legal regimes that have facilitated the massive collection and processing of data. While reforms have strengthened individual control over personal data, the law has simultaneously reified the relationship of individuals to platforms as ‘user’ – a resource to be mined for monetisable data and attention. But what other types of relationships to data and platforms can we imagine and configure?
This four part seminar series explores alternative strategies for governing data and the digital economy. The goal is to re-invigorate questions of data governance by thinking through:
- What data is and how it works in the digital economy
- How the law of organisations interacts with and conditions the digital economy
- How platforms are not merely market actors but markets in and of themselves, and
- How data might be repurposed as a tool for collective and democratic forms of governance and control?
SEMINAR 1 — RETHINKING DATA IN THE PLATFORM WORLD
Friday 9 April 2021
Online via Zoom
Data protection laws treat personal data as a representation or reflection of an individual – an element of their identity. Limiting the collection and processing of data protects the capacity of the individual to define themselves as the data they generate is captured and interpreted. In the digital economy, however, personal data is used to control or steer consumer and business activity through its relationship to human attention. Rather than being stored in filing cabinets or static databases, data is collected from users and processed in real time, at massive scale, while being channelled into complex networks of back- end businesses.
- How might data governance take into account these dynamics of how data works in the digital economy?
- How can data governance comprehend data as something co-created by individuals, platforms and businesses, conditioned by both the front-end platform interfaces and back-end networks?
- How do our ideas of what data is, be it property, labour, identity, or even pollution, inform our regulatory thinking in this environment, and how should they?
- How can we better understand data and data practices as artefacts of certain social, legal, and political arrangements?
In many ways, the goal of platforms is not to be the best player in the market, but to be the market itself. Research into platform business models has demonstrated the centrality of monopoly provision in the context of multi- sidedness and network effects. Following the incentives of datafication, these dynamics are pushed further and further into new domains of human activity. But when platforms successfully intermediate multi-sided markets they use asymmetries in data and computation to algorithmically simulate their function, and configure them to extract maximum surplus for the platforms themselves. The recent shift in emphasis towards market and competition regulation is designed to address platforms’ abuse of such dominant positions. However, there is scope for questioning whether more competitive markets are an effective regulatory goal, whether there are alternatives for compelling platforms as monopolies or pseudo-markets to function in less abusive ways, or whether these domains might be de-marketised or de- commodified altogether.
- Is more competition in these arenas desirable, achievable, or beneficial
- Are there ways to leverage the monopoly position of platforms for public service goals through public utility type regulation?
- Should there be limitations on the domains of life in that platforms are able to intermediate, platformise, and marketise?
- What regulatory thinking is necessary to properly attend to algorithmically operated pseudo-markets?
SEMINAR 3 — ORGANISATIONS AND INTERMEDIARIES IN THE DATA ECONOMY
Friday 7 May 2021
Online via Zoom
The data economy is legally structured, on the front end at least, through contractual relationships between platforms and individuals as ‘users’. There is growing recognition that individuals may no longer be able to adequately protect or pursue their own interests under these arrangements. On one level, this has encouraged platforms to seek user trust through other means such as ethics boards and officers. It has also spurred research into the development of new intermediaries, like trusts and coops for data and platforms, that might stand between platforms and users.
- Are there ways to separate the economic utility of data from corporate organisational forms incentivised for maximum financial gain?
- What types of technical and legal tools are necessary for the development of data and platform intermediaries?
- What roles can intermediaries play in their economic position between platforms and individuals?
Whatever the early utopian goals of the internet and artificial intelligence, the contemporary internet has developed into a information system thoroughly dependent on advertising revenue and consumer culture. In the digital economy as we have it now, data functions as a mechanism for steering and controlling consumer spending and business activity. What alternatives might be imagined?
- How can businesses challenge their reliance on platforms’ monopoly over consumer attention? Could institutional investment strategies shift platform priorities?
- If data collection and processing through profiling and machine learning have the capacity to influence behaviour, how can those technologies be tooled towards more democratic or collective mechanisms of governance and control?
- What collective or democratic goals should data be processed to achieve?
- And what levels of influence over human and business behaviour might be permissible to achieve them?
Alternative Data Governance // Alternative Data Economies is presented by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, in combination with the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Ethics at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, and the Humanising Machine Intelligence project at the Australian National University.