DataSyn

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.

This initiative is supported under the Fair, Green and Global Alliance.

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Latest Issue

The WTO and Digitalization: Where Do We Go from Here?

February 2024

This month on DataSyn we bring a series of short pieces designed to contextualize and reflect on the digital trade landscape against the backdrop of WTO MC13. Our first piece takes a critical look at the US’ dramatic reversal of its stance on key issues, probing into the motivations and consequences of this development. Our second piece ties the historical conflicts around digital trade to the cutting-edge issues around AI regulation. Finally, our third piece takes a step back, providing a helpful overview of the neo-colonial tendencies that have plagued the digital trade arena in recent years.

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Past Issues

Co-ops, Corporate Elites and Crypto

January 2024

This month in DataSyn, a series of digital labor scholars from the Global South come together to review a new vision statement on the platform cooperatives movement. In addition, we present two gems from our archives. As this year’s Davos meeting comes to an end, we bring you a prescient critique of its flailing politics that we published in 2022. We also revisit this piece on the cryptosphere and Web 3.0 that cautions against the perils of corporatized innovation narratives.

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On Platforms v. Publishers, and the Fight for the Right to Repair

December 2023

In our last issue for the year, we bring you two pieces that engage with some recent debates in the tech space. Our first piece takes a look at the perils of electronic waste and the corporate behavior and political backdrop that aggravates its fallout. Our second piece, riding on the momentum of the recent Canadian Online News Act, engages critically with the news content-digital platform conjuncture, using India as a case study to unpack the growing strife and regulatory concerns therein.

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Undersea Escapades and Courtroom Drama

November 2023

This issue brings you two pieces that probe into the current juncture of Big Tech power from different vantage points. Our first piece takes stock of Meta’s 2Africa undersea cable, and the less-than-philanthropic agenda that lurks beneath its efforts to expand connectivity across the African continent. Our second piece contextualizes the recent antitrust cases filed against Google, Amazon, and Microsoft by analyzing the evolution of litigation against Big Tech and the lessons it holds for the current moment.

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DataSyn Turns Two: 100 Authors, 30 Countries and Going Strong!

October 2023

This month, as DataSyn completes two years, we revisit some of our milestone essays and features from the year past. 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.

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AI: No Savior for the Global South

September 2023

This month on DataSyn, as we continue to focus on AI, we delve into the promises and limitations of this ostensibly epoch-defining technology. Our first piece takes up the claims of AI as a tool for development in regions like Africa, while our second piece challenges the prevailing obscurantism around AI and how it works. Additionally, our bonus third feature tracks recent developments in the digitalization of agriculture, and the complex politics around the datasets that are generated from our food systems.

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Charting the Scramble for Africa

August 2023

This issue of DataSyn, sheds light on different facets of Africa’s burgeoning digital economy. Our first piece looks at the complex relationships that have been engendered by China’s role in Africa’s digital infrastructure. Our second piece critically examines the current state of the fintech industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the many problems it continues to pose. Additionally, in continuation of our artificial intelligence (AI) series, our third piece takes a look at how dominant framings of AI regulatory discourse often obfuscate the political stakes involved, and what needs to be done to recenter these. .

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The Struggle to Control AI Rages On

July 2023

In an ongoing series at DataSyn, we hone in on the political economy of AI and the GenAI conjuncture. This month, we start by examining Big Tech’s capture of GenAI and the business models it is employing to consolidate this power. Our second article explores the many dangers of this technology’s proliferation in education. In a bonus feature, we take stock of India’s digital public infrastructure and its discontents.

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Hits and Misses: On Corporate Responsibility, Gate Keepers and Common Code

June 2023

This month on DataSyn, we analyze the update to the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct and critically assess how it extends (or doesn’t) itself to a digitalized business environment. Our essays also look at the potentials and pitfalls for gatekeeper regulation in India, and deep dive into the state of Kerala’s vibrant and long-standing open-source initiatives in education.

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From Synthetic Data to Virtual Influencers: Digital Make Believe is a Real Thing

May 2023

In this issue, DataSyn zeroes in on some of the potentially transformative developments taking place in the tech sector that have escaped the limelight. Our essays assess how synthetic data can be key to recalibrating the data and AI landscape; deep dive into the geopolitical implications of Latin America’s rapid integration into China’s digital value chains; examine the rising trend of virtual influencers; and much more.

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May Day: As Tech’s Fortunes Sink, Will Labor Pay the Price?

April 2023

This May Day, we bring to you a special issue of DataSyn, where we track platform workers’ struggles from Europe to South Korea, examine the fall-out of the recent tech layoffs, analyze important legislative developments, take an inside look at a pioneering platform cooperative, and much more!

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The Persistence of Magical Thinking: Techno-speculation Goes After the Global South

March 2023

This month, our issue focuses on wild digital gambles being carried out in the Global South and their local implications. Our first piece analyzes the investor push to give crypto a second lease of life by targeting political, social, and economic vulnerabilities in Africa. In our second piece, we engage with the specter of the largely defunct smart city narrative and the complex politics of digitalization, urbanism, and displacement in Kolkata.

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A Global Agenda for Feminist Digitality: Critical Reflections on CSW67

February 2023

In the backdrop of UN CSW67, our pieces in this issue address the question of gender-just digitality through various angles: our first piece takes aim at the limited scope of the CSW’s proposed field of discussion and proposes the tenets of more substantive framing. Seeking to critically engage with another key multilateral forum on the horizon, our second piece affirms a charter of feminist demands for the Global Digital Compact. In another essay, we trace the development of the ‘Feminist Digital Justice Declaration for Generation Equality'. We also bring to you a throwback feature for this edition, culling key insights from debates around gendered violence on social media.

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On Food, Fintech, and Folly in the Metaverse

January 2023

This month on DataSyn, we explore new layers to older forms of inequity and injustice. Our pieces span multiple instantiations, from how an assemblage of fintech payment apps exploit worker precarity in crisis-ridden Venezuela, and how the metaverse escalates online gendered violence, to how clauses that enable data extractivism are being smuggled through a progressive face lift within multilateral fora.

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There's no guessing at Big Tech's fortune in 2023

December 2022

In this year-end issue, we spotlight key areas and debates that need our attention as we commence 2023. Reflecting on the need to move beyond privacy as we fight Big Tech’s encroachment into healthcare, carefully unpacking the tensions and synergies between environmental and digital justice, and tracing the contours of a novel ‘digital Taylorism’, our essays deliver a wealth of critical analysis to keep you engaged through the holiday season.

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It's never been a better time to talk about corporate accountability

November 2022

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.

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DataSyn turns one!

October 2022

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.

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What makes a people’s (e)-commerce possible?

September 2022

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.

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Belling Big Tech: Policymakers lock horns with Big Tech’s power?

August 2022

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.

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Big Tech abandons growth-first at last?

July 2022

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.

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Why Web 3.0 can be a hard pill to swallow

June 2022

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.

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The tech takeover isn’t coming, it’s already here

May 2022

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.

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May Day: Labor's moment is here!

April 2022

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.

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The Murky Truth About Fintech Panaceas

March 2022

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.

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Can Competition Law Call Out the Monopoly's New Clothes?

February 2022

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.

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The Davos 2022 Roundup

January 2022

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.

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2021 versus Big Tech: A Year in Review

December 2021

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.

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From sea to cloud, a cartography of Big Tech control

November 2021

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.

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Will Chinese Medicine Cure Big Tech Excess?

October 2021

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.

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