Digital technologies once held the promise to be a great equaliser. As a digital economy takes shape, global inequalities however are rising sharply. Vertically integrated global digital corporations are set to rule every sector of the economy based on their exclusive control over its data, further concentrating economic power. There exists a political paralysis over regulation of such digital corporations. Any shift in the dominant digital model and practices towards greater fairness and sustainability requires first of all an examination of the political economy of data, and the digital intelligence that it contributes. Policy makers around the world are evidently becoming eager to explore ways for wide data sharing, with a view to its easy availability for domestic businesses. But there is a dearth of understanding and political will at the highest levels to develop the required new policies and laws for this purpose, as well as of viable practical models for data sharing. Very little theoretical work explores alternative models for economic governance of data. This paper attempts some new directions in this regard.
The digital economy can be understood as comprising intelligent systems running whole sectors, employing data based digital intelligence to re-organise and coordinate them. Within such a macro understanding, it is possible to apply the framework of Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) developed by Elinor Ostrom to examine the management of data and digital intelligence resources at the community level in a given sector, like transport, under the dominant model. Such an analysis reveals very suboptimal results on almost all the key IAD evaluation parameters; from efficiency and equity to accountability and sustainability. The paper then proposes treating data and digital intelligence as common pool resources, under common property regimes. It briefly considers the kind of data governance arrangements that may be possible and necessary for a robust and fair digital economy. The discussion also subsumes key contemporary data related issues like the contestations around free global flows of data and the data rights of platform dependent actors, like taxi drivers and traders.