[CODATA-international] Digital Feudalism

Parsons, Mark parsom3 at rpi.edu
Thu Oct 17 20:52:53 EDT 2019

Wow! Thank you Suchith for inspiring such a wave of thoughtful conversation.

It seems that there are (at least) two major issues being discussed here. The first is the surveillance capitalism, rent seeking from personal information, and platform monopolization encountered in the "digital feudalism” discussed in the original Mazucatto article that Suchith shared. The second is the issue of “digital colonialism” where the privileged North extracts information from and exploits the marginalized South.

On the first issue, feudalism, I agree with Alberto and Falk, that we may be well served by revisiting Marx (with critique). I would also suggest that feminist theory can provide some insight here. Along those lines, I point you to a recent paper - Information Maintenance as a Practice of Care<https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3236409> - and the community called The Maintainers<http://themaintaners.org/> who seek to address power imbalance and promote the practice of maintaining and repairing beneficent systems while disrupting nefarious (feudalistic) systems.

On the second issue, colonialism, I agree with Kassim, Fraser, Ross and others that building relationships and trust is key. A resource that can guide some of this has recently been released by the RDA Indigenous Data Sovereignty Group - the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.<https://www.gida-global.org/> Be FAIR and CARE!

Where the two issues come together could be really troubling. We already see Google and Facebook working to provide “free” internet or cloud services to developing countries. That should worry us all and I think it gets to Suchith’s initial concerns about equitable access and use of GIS.

Geoffrey, I’m pleased ISC is looking to tackle some of these issues. I would be interested in helping. I’m less pleased about the term 'data governance', but I think I understand the intent. I think the first question then needs to be *what* are we seeking to govern and why. I think Bob makes a really good point about the need to coordinate all the groups and initiatives, but Jean-Claude is right that we need to consider the data as a resource itself (although certainly not in an oligarchic, resource-exploitation model like OPEC). Falk wisely counsels us to be careful of noble aspirations mistakenly working within malign systems. Personally, I don’t see ’neoliberalism’ and ‘capitalism’ as malign systems per se, but there sure are some malign interpretations and implementations.

Finally, I can’t help but note that many of these issues would make excellent topics for CODATA’s Data Science Journal<https://datascience.codata.org/> :-).



Mark A. Parsons
Senior Research Scientist
Tetherless World Constellation
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
 +1 303 941 9986
1550 Linden Ave., Boulder CO 80304, USA

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