Big data and tax avoidance

I’d thoroughly recommend this discussion on the political economy of automation and other related matters.  I particularly enjoyed the contribution made by Alice Marwick, and if I can, I will post some of what she said.



One of the questions that came up in the talk was how do we possibly monetise the personal data we give away for free to social media companies and other data-vacuuming companies?  That is, how do we as individuals derive the sort of financial return from our personal data as the corporations do?

Or more specifically, how do we address the fact that the immense wealth pocketed by companies like Facebook and Google is generated off the back of the free “labour” we provide in the form of the data we create by our involvement in various online activities.

Why should they get this stuff for free?

It occurs to me, this is a problem that democracy solved some time ago, at least theoretically.  It’s called taxation.

Of course, the Google’s of the world are very good at avoiding taxation, and various elites are very good at deflecting attention from this breach of the social contract.  The taxation-is-theft crowd are old hands at making it sound like companies have a moral obligation to minimise tax.

But how else do we inject some mutual obligation into this equation, when the power differential between any given user (data generator/citizen) and the corporations involved is so immense?

As someone in the talk said, it is very hard for an individual to put a price on the data they give up in a way that they are likely to be able to extract some sort of rent for it from the companies that use it.  Even if you could, it hardly makes sense for every individual in the world to be looking to sign a contract with every company that uses their data.

Which is precisely why tax is such a good idea and why such corporations should pay tax and why a government of, by and for the people should make the case that such data is a very salient instance of how corporations are beholden to citizens and therefore obligated to reimburse them.

If a corporation’s income is dependent on the data generated by citizens of the nation in which they operate, then surely there is a moral obligation for them to compensate said citizens via the taxation system.

Categories: Automation, data

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