We've often wondered what the purpose, the point, of Yvgeny Morozov is. This puzzlement has not been reduced by his latest offering. Those big American tech companies own all our data thus, well, thus something must be done!
All of the nation’s data, for example, could accrue to a national data fund, co-owned by all citizens (or, in the case of a pan-European fund, by Europeans). Whoever wants to build new services on top of that data would need to do so in a competitive, heavily regulated environment while paying a corresponding share of their profits for using it. Such a prospect would scare big technology firms much more than the prospect of a fine.
The current approach – let’s have big tech firms swallow as much data as they can and apply competition law to how they design their websites – is toothless. Fixing online shopping is important but not if it accelerates the transition to a perverse form of data feudalism, where the key resource is owned by just one or two corporations.
We're a lot less worried about a company turning a buck by putting together our rampant doughnut habit, our GSP location and the ad from the local baker than we are by the idea that the government owns all this stuff. The temptation to use it to eliminate Bad Thought would seem to be rather greater among those not motivated by lucre and pelf. Governments and such information don't have a good historical record.
And as to feudalism, the definition was that the government owned everything, we all just gaining it upon licence, wasn't it?
The greater problem though here is economic. The data itself isn't worth anything at all. That's why we all, individually, give it away. It is the very process of collecting and processing it which adds value. There is no value add here other than the systems which do that, those tech giants being the systems that do.
Think of Ricardo and what that means for resource rents. The simple existence of some resource, oil, gold, diamonds say, belongs to no one as no one has actually created that resource. The implication being that the government of the area should tax the simple existence value of the resource until the pips squeak. Revenue's got to come from somewhere, it should come from non-distortionary sources, taxing what no one has created cannot change the effort into creation, can it?
But we all also agree that the people who invest capital, effort, time, into developing those resources should indeed profit from having done so. Incentives do matter after all.
At which point, if there is no resource here, only the effort, then what taxation of the resource rent should there be?
If it is true, as we maintain it is, that it is the collection and processing of the data itself which adds the value then what is there for the government to own?