We Are the Data: the Case for Democratic Ownership of Tech

by Alyxandra Goodwin, Jessica Quiason, and Tracey Corder

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

With each new crisis we face, we see more and more how Big Tech’s influence endangers our communities. From spreading misinformation around the COVID-19 epidemic, to amplifying white supremacy online in the lead up to the Capitol insurrection earlier in January, while at the same time silencing anti-racist voices. The chief strategy of any business is to maximize profits, but because of the ubiquity and scale of Big Tech, the harmful effects of monetization are stronger and more durable than many other industries.

Much of Big Tech is driven by profits from ads, so to keep us clicking, extreme and bigoted viewpoints are bumped up in algorithms. Big Tech also makes billions from contracting with the military and law enforcement, building and expanding on centuries of mass incarceration and US imperialism. And because of how Big Tech can also connect us in ways like never before, engaging in Big Tech like using the internet is no longer a convenient option, but in many cases the only reasonable one particularly in a pandemic.

How do we break free from the way that Big Tech monetizes the destruction of our communities, particularly communities of color? How do we use our participation in tech infrastructure to fight more for our needs? Big Tech is nothing without data, and we are the data. So how do we build the world we want with tech but without the profits and tech execs?

Because Big Tech corporations have grown so quickly, they’ve moved faster than we can regulate them or even imagine a different way of achieving the same ends through different models. What if we owned the tech that we used? What if we made the decisions on how our data (where we went, who we spoke to, what we bought, etc) gets used to simply make our lives easier and better, rather than sold to advertisers so that Big Tech execs could become some of the richest people in the world? Or sold to the police and ICE so we can get arrested and imprisoned?

Check out the readings below to learn more about the harms of a profit-driven tech industry and how we can build a better, more equitable future with tech on our terms by owning it.

Photo by ev on Unsplash

References + relevant readings

Tax breaks for tech

Tech worsening inequality at our jobs, in our hospitals, in our housing and schools

Tech and bigoted violence

Regulating tech is not enough

History of municipalization/nationalization

Black and Brown-led organizations working towards collective ownership

Discussions on collective ownership models for tech

Other reading lists

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