Data as Labor

Imagine a world in which your personal data, currently hoovered up by tech companies and repurposed for their profit, were honored as your dignified work and compensated as such. Rather than the growing prowess of digital systems being seen as “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) that would replace our jobs, it would be seen as a new source of well-paying jobs and income supplements. Rather than being treated like passive consumers of the entertainments dished out to us by digital platforms, we would be honored as the suppliers of the data that make the digital economy work. Rather than all the value of the digital economy flowing to wealthy nerds in cosmopolitan cities, the fruits of digital technology would be shared broadly among citizens.

In our chapter 5, we show that by treating Data as Labor (DaL) not only can we build a fairer and more equal society, but we can also spur the development of technology and economic growth. At present, because data suppliers are not properly rewarded for their digital contributions, they lack the incentive or freedom to contribute the high-quality data that would most empower technology or develop their personal capacities to maximize their earnings and contributions to the digital economy. The current wasteful equilibrium results from the dominance of companies like Facebook and Google that thrive off free user data. But other companies, like Amazon, Apple and especially Microsoft, have a different business model and could benefit from competing with Facebook and Google to offer users a fairer deal. Awareness among users of their value would already make a large difference, as users might form data labor unions to demand fair compensation. And users are increasingly being empowered by new definitions of property rights over data in the European Union.