DataSyn turns one!
This issue marks a year since DataSyn went live! As we continue to track the dynamics of power in the digital economy, this milestone serves as an opportune moment to reflect on the high points of our journey so far.
It’s been an exciting, rewarding, and deeply educational experience for all of us putting DataSyn together at the back end. The rhythm may now be a perfect staccato, but we are constantly amused we survive the frenzy each time. The collaborations around DataSyn have seen the discourse about Big Tech and debates about digital justice come alive, and acquire a breadth and depth that we hardly anticipated. We are richer and grateful for the ground gained so far, and immensely thankful to you, our readers, who continue to engage with DataSyn month-on-month and support this important work.
To mark one year of our newsletter this month, we bring you a retrospective collection from the DataSyn vault. We celebrate the articles that have been the most popular amongst our subscribers, as well as a couple of hidden gems, that presciently explored subjects that had not received the attention they warranted. We also turn the spotlight momentarily back on our special issue from May 2021, on the inspiring labor struggles currently being waged against Big Tech. The pieces curated for our one-year anniversary remain strikingly contemporary in their analysis, and capture the kind of incisive perspective we strive for in our coverage. We also hope this serves as an occasion for them to find newer readers.
This milestone also serves as a chance to assess the evolution of our editorial viewpoint, here at DataSyn.
When we first started, we gave ourselves a clear mandate: to track developments at the intersection of corporate power and digitalization. This translated into a sharp focus on issues around the capture of value chains and infrastructure, new forms of extractivism, the political economy of Big Tech’s expanding power, responses and resistance to the same, including in the form of worker struggles against injustices of the dominant platform economy.
However, as we have seen the space evolve over the last year, different facets of the landscape have come to be more salient, and there are a number of areas we want to allot greater focus to in the months to come. For instance, as datafication proliferates and data becomes a key organizing force of our future societies, debates around the normative underpinnings of our relationship to data, and associated rights and obligations of social actors, acquire centrality. They have a great bearing on the potential for reining in Big Tech and empowering marginalized constituencies (workers, indigenous peoples, developing nations, etc.).
Similarly, as DataSyn takes on the coming year, we hope to engage actively with questions of the governance of the digital, both globally and nationally, where we see a growing surge of attempts at corporate takeover. From the complex lobbying operations that are being unleashed on governments in the developing world, to the insidious propagation of Big Tech power through the influence they are able to exert in multilateral bodies.
We would also like to look more closely into how our work at DataSyn can complement cross-movement synergies, where important new alliances are emerging. The interrelationships between the digital realm and issues of, for instance, agroecology, climate politics, debt and finance, and gender justice are all increasingly coming to the fore, and demand greater engagement.
Now to get to the fun stuff. What’s in store for DataSyn in the coming months? A lot!
In August 2022, we brought together the first cohort of our Big Tech and Society Media Fellows. Over the months, they will be taking the DataSyn lens into the field, bringing back important stories in the Big Tech space that focus on the Global South. From Big Tech’s connection to the Amazonian rain forests, to expanding Chinese tech interests in Africa, to the face of the platform economy in the MENA region – our fellows promise to elevate DataSyn’s analysis to new levels.
Also in the works, we hope to soon unveil a new section: GDC (Global Digital Cooperation) Watch, a periodic bulletin that stays on the pulse of Big Tech’s machinations within critical global governance spaces and tracks important development around the 2024 UN Summit of the Future.
We hope you will continue to engage with our work as we carry on tracking the struggle against Big Tech with diligence, rigor, and incisive analysis, delivered with a side of sardonic humor to your inbox every month.
The DataSyn Team
The Assetization of Social Life
Part of our special issue covering the Davos 2022 summit, this piece has been amongst our most popular DataSyn essays. Tracing the point at which the obscure logics of today’s financialized capitalism begin to intersect with the dynamics of digitalization, Kean Birch critically analyzes the phenomenon of ‘assetization’, through which institutions like the WEF enact new forms of extractivism, and charge rents on all facets of our everyday lives.
Digging Deeper: Assessing Big-Tech’s Capture of the Internet’s Infrastructure
Another favorite piece from our early issues, whose central concerns acquire new significance in the current geopolitical situation. Tanay Mahindru provides a primer on the internet’s infrastructural composition, and Big Tech’s machinations to establish greater control over its various elements.
Fintech and Poverty in and Beyond the Pandemic
Looking at the World Bank and Gates Foundation’s G2Px initiative as a paradigmatic case, Nick Bernards’s essay, a hidden gem, critically examines the massive push for reinforcing digital social protections in the wake of the pandemic, particularly with respect to ID systems and digital payments infrastructure. In doing so, he highlights the flawed thinking behind such models and their pathological proclivities towards privatization of the welfare state.
Fixing Digital Capitalism: Learning from China’s Playbook
Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami
A lucid piece from the first issue of DataSyn that sheds light on a part of the digital economy landscape that seldom receives the attention it warrants. Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami take stock of the Chinese state’s actions in setting limits on their Big Tech corporations. This essay compares these regulatory interventions with concomitant developments in EU and US policy, and emphasizes the need for an approach that can overcome the hackneyed tenets of economic liberalism.
Towards New Labor Futures: Voices from the Frontlines
For May Day this year, we brought together 21 inputs from workers, activists, campaigners, and scholars at the frontier of labor’s struggles in the platform economy. We asked them what they saw as the most significant developments and successes of recent years, the most pressing challenges they have encountered, and the most promising avenues and points of intervention for workers’ rights for the immediate future. The answers we received were sharp, insightful, and inspiring – a must-read, as far as we are concerned.
Liked what you read? To have such concise and relevant analysis on all things Big Tech delivered to your inbox every month, subscribe to DataSyn!