Big Data and Society 8 (1) (2021)

Digital personal data is increasingly framed as the basis of contemporary economies, representing an important new asset class. Control over these data assets seems to explain the emergence and dominance of so-called “Big Tech” firms, consisting of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google/alphabet, and Facebook. These US-based firms are some of the largest in the world by market capitalization, a position that they retain despite growing policy and public condemnation—or “techlash”—of their market power based on their monopolistic control of personal data. We analyse the transformation of personal data into an asset in order to explore how personal data is accounted for, governed, and valued by Big Tech firms and other political-economic actors. However, our findings show that Big Tech firms turn “users” and “user engagement” into assets through the performative measurement, governance, and valuation of user metrics, rather than extending ownership and control rights over personal data per se. We conceptualize this strategy as a form of “techcraft” to center attention on the means and mechanisms that Big Tech firms deploy to make users and user data measurable and legible as future revenue streams.
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DOI 10.1177/20539517211017308
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