Information is Work: Why We Want Information Unions

After a divisive US presidential election that seems to mark the end of the 20th century, I remember the daughters of the dawn of the industrial revolution. The Lowell, Massachusetts "Mill Girls" made up 75 percent of all textile workers in the United States. In the 1830s, they took jobs to send their brothers to college and to support their families. These young women, who began to work at the age of 15, were the fabric of the economic production of their community. It was the close ties of their sisterhood that became what we know today as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, AFL-CIO.

The work has traditionally organized people for a common cause like union representation. Most of us have had to sell our labor for capital that someone else owns, which gave us an incentive to work for common workplace standards. Yet another engine of economic activity has joined this traditional model of labor for capital. Now our data is the work that drives capital creation and distribution. And it is time for us to take back the debts of our communities.

James Felton Keith is the author of Inclusionism, Founding President of Data Union and a member of the Advisory Board of the Streamr Network.

Lowell's organizational efforts were notable not only for the "unfeminine" involvement of women, but also for the political framework used to address the public. They warned that "the oppressive hand of avarice would enslave us". They used this sentiment in an 1836 strike song.

Oh! Isn't it a shame to have a pretty girl like me

Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?

Oh! I can't be a slave, I won't be a slave

Because I like freedom so

That I can't be a slave

In modern times, newspapers, NGOs and government officials from all continents ask: "Are we slaves to big data?" In contrast to the community of millwives, we organize not only for wages, but also for incomes based on the value of our community of participants. The thread of our data is the crucial input for the productivity of any company.

In the EU

Last week I received a leaked copy of the upcoming European Data Governance Act (DGA). We expect some form of this legislation to be passed in the European Parliament in March 2021. The legislation specifically mentions "data unions" in sections 26 and 27.

(26) An emerging variant is data cooperatives or data unions that aim to achieve a number of goals …

(27) … data cooperatives as intermediaries between data subjects and potential data users in the economy

Data unions (or cooperatives or collectives or communities) are a relatively new concept for a new natural resource: personal data. Unlike its wage-based time competitor, economists refer to data as a non-competing good, which means that multiple users can consume it at the same time. According to the language of the recently enacted data protection regulations (GDPR) in Europe, both data controllers (big tech platforms) and data processors (small app companies) can work together with other companies to generate value on data about you and your community, according to Rapper Future. At the same damn time.

Now our data is the work that drives capital creation and distribution. And it is time for us to take back the debts of our communities.

There is a market failure here. All good markets produce adequate arbitrageurs (arbs), and in the current market the argument about 1) what data is, 2) the price of data, and 3) who owes it, is one-sided. Anyone engaged in arbitrage, an individual or an institution, has a formal opinion about the value (i.e. price) of a commodity. In this case, your data is good.

An example of a current data union is the software application Swash. The app offers transparency about the monetization of your browser data and in turn offers the possibility to give a different price opinion. This is where a data union becomes interesting. If Entity A (your browser) suggests your data is worth some amount to their identifiable buyers and Entity B (an app like Swash) suggests your data is worth a different amount, a third party may technically be in the buyer's market for your data attend an actual price to work.

See Also: Ben Powers – The Web Wasn't Made For Privacy, But It Could Be

Another example of a current data union is the attempt by the Data Dividend Project to seek redress on behalf of what we refer to as data subjects (individuals) to seek compensation through the technological or non-technological platform for misrepresentation or abuse of personal information Receive data from a specific community. The success of a data union seeking legal redress would ideally trigger the implementation of a technological data union like the aforementioned app.

Data unions can balance a business case as exploitative as the music industry's treatment of talent, flaunting their community's culture. Shortly after the European Union passed the DGA, I expect a wave of data cooperatives to emerge ad hoc based on the demand for visionary labor activists on every continent hosting transnational corporations. I am currently aware of at least 50 data unions organized in the shadow of the western world.

Three ways

There are three ways we can make data unions a reality.

Data union as politics is a method of insisting that data subjects (individuals) cooperatives of elected officials and government agencies exist.

Data Union as a lawsuit is a method by which data subjects sue data users (institutions) for redress in scenarios where individuals are making claims for damages.

Data Union as a tech is a method of embedding technology that creates a distribution mechanism for lawful compensation based on transactions between data subjects and users.

In the 2020s, these three types of data union methods will open up a new way of rewarding people for participating in the world. I think it will change the way people look at business, ethics and human rights. With the EU adopting the DGA, I expect dozens of organized working groups to take some form of the data union approach.

This generation will know that it is #DataIsLabor.

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