DataSyn is a free monthly newsletter from IT for Change featuring content hosted on Bot Populi.
DataSyn provides concise and relevant analysis on all matters concerning Big Tech. In an era where Big Tech has become the epochal problem, the spirit behind DataSyn is one of cautious aspiration, critical nuance, and despite everything...a relentless optimism about the digital being a means of equitable development.
The (only somewhat) namesake of DataSyn, Project Cybersyn, was a 70s public technology initiative in Chile under Salvador Allende. Cybersyn was ahead of its time in encapsulating a powerful idea – that digital innovation could synergize the efficiencies of computing for an equitable and free society. In times when state-controlled data is prone to becoming a site of authoritarianism, the DataSyn team ironically thinks back to this short-lived, imperfect experiment to remind itself of how, even as we rightly fear the concentration of digital power in the hands of market or state, there remains the imperative to preserving a public, development oriented role for technology.
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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.
As we come to the end-line of 2022, an unflattering picture of Big Tech is emerging, one in which mass layoffs, dampened earnings, and plunging stock prices have become the face of Silicon Valley. As these crises play out, the need for strong regulatory intervention becomes more urgent than ever. These are the key moments for progressive thought leadership to step up and double down on the push for binding and effective corporate governance. In this issue, we bring you two pieces that respond to this imperative, working to shape the discourse in real time.
Digital Public Goods (DPGs) – referring to digital products, services, and infrastructure that are publicly owned/managed – have become a buzzword in digital policy circles. But as with all good ideas, the need for proper checks and balances stands, without which, such endeavors are always at the risk of co-option. This month on DataSyn, we deep dive into the promise and perils of Digital Public Goods through an exploration of India’s Open Network for Digital Commerce. Our second piece, an oldie but goodie from our archives, serves as an apt companion to this discussion. We unpack the gilded promise of digital commerce for women’s empowerment and argue for the need to rethink the politics of international trade to actualize this possibility.
This month on DataSyn, we critically engage with the policy initiatives attempting to ‘fix’ the platform economy's monopoly problem. We study their underlying frameworks, gauge their potential for substantive change, and identify persisting blind spots and obstacles. Our first piece reflects on recent regulatory moves being made by the EU through the Digital Markets Act and other efforts being pursued by the US and other major economies. Our second piece reconsiders development in the digital age and analyzes efforts by the Global South to assert sovereignty within the digital policy space with a view to challenge the dominant EU-US approaches. Of course, these are still early times and the immediate years ahead will tell us how policy processes are faring to keep pace with (if not, ahead of) digital markets.
This month on DataSyn, we try to make some sense of the present financial moment and ponder about its significance for the future of the digital economy. In our first piece, we examine how the recent crash in equities and speculative assets is shifting the terrain of the platform ecosystem and the ripple effects it may have going forward. Through an engaging interview, we also contemplate what it might mean to have a digital life that wasn’t subject to data grabbing and the constant rush to enact one’s presence within the endless stream of current digital cultures.
This month on DataSyn, we engage with the Web 3.0 discourse and unpack how the narratives of subversion and alternatives have been coopted to brand and promote highly speculative but ultimately status-quoist ventures. How do we rescue and revitalize the genuine promise of people-centered alternatives? Experiments in community-based data-stewardship from Latin America provide a cautious pathway of hope.
As the forces of data, artificial intelligence, and rapidly proliferating frontier technology are moving swiftly to reorganize the foundations of our socio-economic life, the struggle to secure democratic control, equity, and public value within the emergent digitized landscape grow apace. This month, DataSyn brings you two pieces pitched on the frontiers of this struggle: first, an exploration of Big Tech ownership structures lending context to the recent commotion around the twitter takeover, and second, a critical engagement with the worrying trends in the digitalization of our food systems.
Commemorating the hard-fought struggles of workers in the platform economy, in this MayDay special issue, Datasyn brings you a confluence of key voices from around the world to analyze the wider politico-economic conjunctures of labor in the digital economy, as well as a reflection - drawing on our own past work, and insights from comrades - on the prevailing faultlines and issues within the movement.
As investors and global development organizations continue to sing its praises, this month in Datasyn, we explore the undercurrents of the rising fintech wave. We examine up close the regulatory blind spots that have allowed some of the sector’s most predatory avatars to flourish. We also probe the concerning modes of governmentality and developmental solutionism, within which key financial infrastructure in welfare is being surrendered to the hands of private actors, at great risks to citizen rights.
In this issue of DataSyn, we explore the realm of competition law, and the complex challenges surrounding its application in an economic landscape that is a far cry from the industrial-era materiality within which its original principles were conceived. For our first piece, Shreeja Sen explores, if and how competition frameworks can move beyond market efficiency considerations to truly grapple with Big Tech’s data power and center the goal of market fairness. The issue also includes Burcu Kilic’s reflection on last year’s infamous move by Facebook in Turkey to enforce data sharing with messaging platform, WhatsApp, and the unexpected way in which it propelled effective antitrust action.
In this special issue of DataSyn, we analyze the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) taking into account its historical influence, emerging schemas in the Davos agenda, and alternative imaginaries that help reclaim our collective digital futures. This includes a historical and critical perspective of the multistakeholderism model that has come to define economic relations and contemporary digital discourse by Anita Gurumurthy. For our second piece, Kean Birch unravels the profound human cost of the assetization of daily life in the service of global capital, for the urgency of political will to stop the juggernaut in its tracks "because it's about who gets to own the future and how they do so." For our final piece, the DataSyn team spent the week tracking Davos to bring you a sharp and timely rejoinder to the clamor of unchecked corporate power.
For this special year-end issue, the DataSyn Team reached out to 21 powerful voices from around the world, across domains of research, activism, and advocacy to capture the pulse of change in the battle against Big Tech. Reflecting on the year that was, the team put together an illustrative essay chronicling stories of resistance against Big Tech over the past year. The issue also includes a fun smorgasbord of reading and media recommendations on technology, hand-picked by our experts that you can peruse through and savor for weeks.
This month, DataSyn features a piece by Tanay Mahindru exposing Big Tech's appropriation of the material infrastructure of the internet, and the attendant policy implications such wholesale capture entails. It also carries Bama Athreya's article examining the challenges of organizing in the platform economy, and how women workers are meeting the challenge under a new regime of the Deleuzian society of control dictated by dominant platforms.
The debut issue of DataSyn breaks ground with two analytical essays. In the first piece, Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami trace the response of the Chinese state to homegrown Big Tech, drawing lessons for how to go beyond the Westphalian regulatory playbook. The second, by Satyavrat Krishnakumar and Amay Korjan, analyzes worker-led platform initiatives and takes a reality check on the pathway for alternatives.