Whose Data? Problematizing the ‘Gift’ of Social Labor

November 2016 / Published by Global Media and Communication

Abstract: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, Founder and Director of Google Ideas, contend that ‘for governments and companies’, the user-generated content that constitutes big data is ‘a gift, enabling them to better respond to citizen and customer concerns, and, within the emergent field of predictive analysis, to predict what the future will hold’. In this article, I interrogate what it means for data from our social lives to be interpreted as a ‘gift’ by private enterprises such as Google. Who is giving what to whom? What is the nature of the transaction? Whose property is this data? By putting into conversation Schmidt and Cohen’s gift thesis with an analysis of the ‘value’ of participation in digital communication networks, this article seeks to uncover an intellectual property conundrum that legitimizes the rise of new kinds of labour vulnerabilities in the digital age; intensifying the extension of the logic of privatization into our digital social lives; and, in doing so, the importance of intellectual property as a language of critique and resistance.