7: Conclusion: Contradictions and Alternatives to Data Commodification

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The capitalist mode of production in which digital monopolies dominate as the most valuable companies is filled with contradictions. New material for commodification and capital accumulation is surface and background data, collected and processed from web search, social networking, cloud computing, apps, and other products and services. Much of the economic processes follow a familiar story in the history of capitalist development. Monopolies, seen by mainstream economics as nothing but aberrations from perfect competition, are, in fact, regularly occurring phenomena in the history of capitalism (Foster & McChesney, 2012; Harvey, 2014; Christophers, 2016). Yet, ‘perfect monopolies’ are equally hard to find as ‘perfect competition’ since there is almost never a single seller of a commodity in the market. Nonetheless, whether we talk about oil companies, banks, airlines, pharmaceutical companies, retailers, car manufacturers, or digital services, capital always has a tendency for concentration and centralization.

It is partially an economic process driven by the need to reduce uncertainties of competition, secure growth, maintain profit rates, control and exploit labour, and harness efficiencies of scale and scope. It is also a legal process since the state(s) organize market conditions for the exchange of commodities and boundaries for capital accumulation, expansion, and reproduction. Commodification of data requires multiple legal and regulatory interventions, primarily through privatization of scientific and technical discoveries, which is evident in the rise of intellectual property rights. Privatization of knowledge leads to private appropriation of wealth from technological innovation, usually funded in the early stages by massive public investments.

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