19 June 2019

Tim Dunlop proposes the socialisation of Big Data: “If we actually recognised our use of digital devices and other data-rich interactions as the work that it is, as a labour we provide––let alone a resource that we extract from ourselves, our personal data––then we would be much more likely to demand that the wealth created by that resource and that labour be distributed more fairly. Data really should be publicly owned,  part of our sovereign wealth; and the fortunes it helps generate should be distributed to all of us, most sensibly through some form of basic income.” This is worth considering, but runs into a practical objection. In their excellent book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski are persuasive about the benefits of data for socialist planning, but can’t address the risk of incompetence or something more sinister, like China’s social credit system. They wonder, “Can we leap over the dichotomy of surveillance capitalism versus surveillance communism? Could a major goods distributor such as Amazon or a social network like Facebook be built as an international nonprofit cooperative, democratically controlled by a society independent of both the market and the state? We admit that these are difficult questions to which we don’t have answers. But we all need to start thinking about what the answers might be.”