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#15The Dispossession of Personal Data

We have been accustomed to “free” services in exchange for our personal data.

We hear it often: personal data are the new oil of the 21st century.

This “brute material” of data capitalism—an extremely lucrative economy—is extracted at worst without our knowing, at best when we simply give it up, as if our digital breadcrumbs (or “data exhaust”) was merely a sub-product of our activities that we wouldn’t know what to do with—and if it can help us save money, then good for us.

Information giants attempt to convince us of the “extraction imperative” according to which personal data must be collected for transformation into valuable products, like ripe fruits just waiting to be picked from their tree.

But that lead us to ignore the real problem: the commodification of human behaviour, as if our human nature could legitimately be rendered to commercial projects.

We also hear that users are the “products” or even the “clients” of capitalist platforms; this is false.

For now, let’s remember that the trading of our data—what reveals our tastes, interests, behaviour, and eventually allows for their manipulation—relies on mass-scale data collection and generates titanic revenues.

Humans have therefore become the means to others’ ends, and the services offered by the platform are mere pretexts for users to leave more data behind, rendering them as more “profitable.”