When data is capital: Datafication, accumulation, and extraction

Big Data and Society 6 (1) (2019)
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Abstract

The collection and circulation of data is now a central element of increasingly more sectors of contemporary capitalism. This article analyses data as a form of capital that is distinct from, but has its roots in, economic capital. Data collection is driven by the perpetual cycle of capital accumulation, which in turn drives capital to construct and rely upon a universe in which everything is made of data. The imperative to capture all data, from all sources, by any means possible influences many key decisions about business models, political governance, and technological development. This article argues that many common practices of data accumulation should actually be understood in terms of data extraction, wherein data is taken with little regard for consent and compensation. By understanding data as a form capital, we can better analyse the meaning, practices, and implications of datafication as a political economic regime.

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