The intelligent corporation: Data and the Digital Economy

Author: Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami

The article was first published on the Transnational Institute website. The views are of the individual authors.

Four centuries after the East India Company set the trend for corporate resource extraction, most of the world is now in the grip of unbridled corporate power. But corporate power is on the cusp of achieving ‘quantum supremacy’ that social movements in the digital age need to understand in order to shift gears in their struggles. The quantum shift here comes from ‘network-data’ power; the ingredients that make up capitalism’s digital age recipe. 

Contemporary capitalism is characterised by the accumulation of data-as-capital. Big Tech, as digital companies are collectively known, use the ‘platform’ business model, which leverages the combined force of Internet connectivity (Metcalfe’s law, that a network’s value comes from the number of its connections) and algorithmic intelligence (what IBM refers to as Watson’s law, the competitive advantage accruing from out-learning everybody else through cognitive computing).

The platform model provides a framework for interactions in the marketplace by connecting its many ‘nodes’ – consumers, advertisers, service providers, producers, suppliers and even objects – that comprise the platform ecosystem, constantly harvesting their data and using algorithms to optimise interactions among them as a means to maximise profit.

The platform model emerged as a business proposition in the early 2000s when Internet companies offering digital communication services began extracting user data from networked social interactions to generate valuable information for targeted advertising.

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