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May 16, 2021
Data governance

Data Capitalism and Algorithmic Racism

Even before the global pandemic drastically increased reliance on communications technology for working, learning, shopping, and socializing at a distance, Americans from all walks of life reported a growing unease about the impact of technology companies on our country.

Whether it is the gig economy company that tinkers with its incentive algorithms—and sends pay plummeting for thousands of “independent contractors,” or the firm peddling facial recognition technology that disproportionately misidentifies people of color as wanted criminals, the video site that promotes inflammatory misinformation guaranteed to generate clicks, or the social media giant that lets advertisers exclude Black homebuyers from seeing real estate ads in particular neighborhoods, communities across the country are struggling with the effects of unaccountable data* extraction and algorithmic decision-making.

Concerns go far beyond worries about personal privacy to fundamental questions of power and control. This paper makes the case that the underlying driver is data capitalism: an economic model built on the extraction and commodification of data and the use of big data and algorithms as tools to concentrate and consolidate power in ways that dramatically increase inequality along lines of race, class, gender, and disability.

Along with this report, we’ve built a microsite to help you understand: what is data capitalism and algorithmic racism?