Discover more from DataSyn
DataSyn Turns Two: 100 Authors, 30 Countries and Going Strong!
It has been a roller coaster of a year tracking the Big Tech space. We started the year analyzing the financial turmoils the tech sector was reeling from and its key implications, including widespread layoffs. We then examined the proliferation of the generative AI landscape, and the problematic exuberance around it. From making sense of the escalating geopolitical tensions in the digital space, to analyzing the growing momentum on multilateral governance, and unpacking labor’s victories, we took on the key flashpoints of the year, bringing to the debates a unique development justice perspective.
This month, as DataSyn completes two years, we bring in the occasion by revisiting some of our milestone essays and features from the year past.
Before that, a quick look at the month gone by.
It’s been a rough one for Big Tech. Following its landmark antitrust case against Google, the Federal Trade Commission initiated another breakthrough lawsuit against Amazon for violating state and federal antitrust laws. These cases, which are the culmination of FTC chair Lina Khan’s long-standing work around antitrust in the platform economy, will serve as a powerful test for the efficacy of existing regulatory instruments and procedures to rein in Big Tech’s mammoth monopolistic power. This month also saw the IRS go after Microsoft for tax evasion, in the biggest audit in US history, seeking legal redressal and claims of a historic USD 29 billion in back taxes. In addition, we witnessed the Screen Actors Guild triumphantly calling off its strike, having agreed to a contract that includes significant restrictions on the use of AI within the industry going forward, a precedent that will no doubt play a part in shaping the use of AI in other sectors.
Finally, in a truly momentous development, the US made a total about turn in its digital trade policy stance this week – by withdrawing its policy proposals on cross-border data flows from the ongoing e-commerce plurilateral negotiations at the WTO. The official explanation from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) is that this is necessary to provide enough space for domestic digital policy debates to unfold; in other words, protecting domestic policy sovereignty. Behind this official line, we can smell very real fear – of Chinese tech companies outwitting their US counterparts in an integrated global digital economy, especially considering that China also is a party to the e-commerce plurilateral. Whatever be the real politik guiding the USTR's move, this is, of course, a big win for all the civil society organizations and trade justice groups opposing a Big Tech-controlled digital trade agenda. But there is also concern that this should not end up as a pyrrhic victory. The absence of a global data governance and digital trade policy consensus means that developing countries will be forced to pick one side of the two imperial powers – China or the US – in the emerging digital economy.
Circling back to our current issue, we bring you a selection of last year’s most read and reshared articles. These pieces take on 2023’s significant developments as well as reflect the key tenets of our editorial focus. From the in-depth reporting of our Big Tech and Media fellows, to our engagement with different facets of the Generative AI craze, coverage of important multilateral politics, vital feminist analysis of digitality, and worker rights, this issue covers the full range of our recent work.
As DataSyn wraps up two years in this space, we take this opportunity to recognize the support of our ever-growing community of contributors and readers, which has allowed us to go from strength to strength. We are proud to be able to say that we have now featured over 100 unique contributors, from close to 30 different countries, with a strong focus on voices and issues from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We are excited to take stock of our journey so far, and redouble our efforts to bring you even more from the frontlines of Big Tech in the year ahead.
The DataSyn Team
THE BIG EXCESS
The Recipe for India’s Gatekeeper Regulation
This year, we worked with our Big Tech and Media fellows to get eyes on the ground, and critically investigate key issues and stories from the Global South that don't get the attention they deserve. Showcasing some of the great work that’s come from this effort, and in tribute to the recent action around antitrust, we bring you Madhavi Singh’s extensive examination of India’s policy discourse around competition in the digital economy, the unique challenges and possibilities of the local context, and what meaningful competition regulation might look like.
THE POLICY TABLE
Pragmatic Deal or Tragic Compromise? Reflections on UN SG’s Policy Brief on the GDC
Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami
We turned the spotlight on multilateral politics that are gaining momentum around key digital issues. Our analysis and critique of the on-going consultations around the UN Secretary-General’s proposed Global Digital Compact, which remains one of the most ambitious platforms for global digital governance on the agenda, has been part of this. Here, we revisit Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami’s piece responding to the UN SG’s agenda-setting policy brief on the GDC, an excellent primer on the issue outlining the political stakes and key fault lines at play in these proceedings.
THE NEW DIVERGENCE
Generative AI and Education: Adopting a Critical Approach
Sopio Zhgenti and Wayne Holmes
Generative AI has been a central issue of contention in tech discourse over the last year, and we have attempted to cover different facets of the phenomenon. Here, we highlight one of the most popular articles from our series: Sopio Zhgenti and Wayne Holmes unpacking the nuances of Generative AI’s impact on education.
Towards the Construction of a Feminist Digital Justice Agenda: Challenges and Proposals
Salanieta Weleilakeba and Florencia Partenio
What does it take to build a fiercely Southern and ground-up feminist digitality in a landscape that teems with empty rhetoric on gender inclusion and ‘pinkwashing’ tactics? Read Salanieta Weleilakeba and Florencia Partenio's essay that captures the process of steering a Working Group on Feminist Digital Justice. This group was co-convened by DAWN and IT for Change, to develop the Declaration of Feminist Digital Justice. This essay was part of our issue on the 2023 UN Convention on the Status of Women.
'Unions Raise the Floor, Co-ops Can Raise the Ceiling'
An Interview with Erik Forman
From its inception, the conjuncture between labor and platformization has been a central theme here at DataSyn, and we have keenly followed experiments in alternative labor models. We throwback to our 2023 MayDay Issue, and particularly, to this fascinating interview with Erik Forman from the Driver’s Cooperative; where he takes us through the trials and tribulations of building a successful platform cooperative that centers workers.
The Sins & Synergies Lounge
Much research in recent times has addressed how the gig economy is changing the character of work. Yet, an area that remains relatively unexplored are the wider networks and modalities of reproductive labor that actually make gig work possible. Read this essay where Nils Van Doorn and Aaron Shapiro sketch the contours of a crucial research agenda, and one that also highlights IT for Change's recent work in the field.
The culmination of the Hollywood Writers strike has secured important concessions on the use of AI within the industry. It is certain to become one of the early milestones of our collective renegotiation of a social contract around AI. Check out this article from the LA Times for a breakdown of the events.
What are the ways in which our digital institutions can be re-imagined from a radically feminist perspective? From championing the right to repair, to a more ecologically conscious digital sphere, listen to these imaginative talks from Griffith University, on the ‘Feminist Server Stacks to Come’.
As regulators begin to inspect the nature of AI’s market applications and the depths of Big Tech’s control over the AI industry, there seems to be a growing discomfort with the status quo. See, for instance, the head of the German Antitrust Authority’s dire warning around Big Tech power in AI in a recent interview; as well as this damning investigative report on the same issue by the UK’s Competitions and Market Authority (CMA).
Metaphors remain our first cognitive crutches in the attempt to grasp any truly novel mutation in technology and economic dynamics, and this is certainly visible in the many figurative ways that data has been framed in an economic context. Yet what are the regulatory implications underpinning these different imaginative renderings of ‘data’, and how can we gain a critical distance from them? Amber Sinha and Arindrajit Basu explore these questions as part of IT for Change’s ‘Unskewing the Data Value Chain’ project.
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!