A small group of large platform companies have become the robber barons and rentier giants of our age.
Their main focus has become the collection of rent while fending off potential competitors and swatting away regulations and public policies aimed at curtailing their power. Not coincidentally, they are also being linked to numerous negative social, economic, and political outcomes, both independently and in conjunction with collection and use of data.
Yet, if monopoly power in the hands of giant for-profit corporations is producing a series of stark economic and social challenges, there remains extraordinary potential in platforms. As an infrastructure for connecting people to goods and services, platforms can and do provide an enormously useful function and, as Covid-19 has proved, they are indispensable to how we live, work, and play.
The challenge is to liberate the democratic and enlivening potential of the platform from the logics of concentrated corporate ownership and profit maximisation. Crucially, while platforms have encouraged a sense of technological inevitability, the way that our digital economy is run is neither fixed nor certain.
This report outlines the current political economy of platforms and data in the US and UK, as well as key policies, regulations, and legislation in the areas of antitrust and monopoly power, workers’ rights and protections, online speech, data privacy and control, and financial technology (fintech), among others. It then presents five foundational principles that we believe should guide a transformative agenda related to platforms and data.
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