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Friday, October 12 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Transnational Materialities of Informational Capital(ism)

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Thomas Poell, José Van Dijck, David Nieborg
This paper offers an analytical framework to critically examine the power relations that structure the online platform ecosystem. Following a relational understanding of power, it focuses on the connections between the five leading platform corporations - Alphabet-Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft (GAFAM) - and the many other digital properties (i.e. platforms, websites, and apps) that populate the online ecosystem. Exploring these connections, we notice that a growing number of digital properties are integrated with, and increasingly dependent on the infrastructural services offered by the GAFAM platforms. These services include: advertising networks, login services, cloud hosting, app stores, payment systems, data analytics, video hosting, geospatial and navigation services, search functionalities, and operating systems. Such infrastructural services allow a wide variety of companies to make their products and services available online, attract and target users, analyze their activities, and generate revenue. It is through the ubiquitous integration and consistent use of these infrastructural services that platform power emerges and is consolidated. To demonstrate how such power relations can be analyzed, the paper highlights two key infrastructural services: app stores and ad networks. For each service it discusses two levels of analysis that can be pursued to gain insight in the workings of platform power. Ultimately a systematically analysis of the key infrastructural services will need to be developed to arrive at a refined taxonomy of platform power relations. Such taxonomy is essential to establish guidelines for governing the platform ecosystem in correspondence with key public values.

Ulises Mejias, Nick Couldry
This presentation will argue that the 'material turn' in internet research must include an analysis of how contemporary practices of data extraction and processing replicate colonial modes of exploitation. Using a macrosociology of capitalism as our research method, we present the concept of 'data colonialism' as a tool to analyze emerging forms of political control and economic dispossession. Regardless of how evocative metaphors like "data is the new oil" might be, we argue that data colonialism can in fact be empirically defined and studied. To this effect, our analysis engages the disciplines of critical political economy, sociology of media, and postcolonial science and technology studies to trace continuities from colonialism’s historic appropriation of territories and material resources to the datafication of everyday life today. We argue that while the modes, intensities, scales and contexts of dispossession have changed, the underlying function remains the same: to acquire resources from which economic value can be extracted. Just as historic colonialism paved the way for industrial capitalism, this phase of colonialism prepares the way for a new economic order. In this context, we analyze the ideologies and rationalities through which data relations—social relations conducted and organized via data processes—contribute to the capitalization of human life. Our findings hold important implications for how we study the internet, and how we may advocate for the decolonization of internet research in the future.

Martin Johannes Riedl
This research considers the Cambrian explosion (Nelms, Maurer, Swartz, & Mainwaring, 2017) of mobile and social payment technologies from a perspective that integrates classical theorizing on money and payments (Mauss, 2002; Simmel, 2005) and more recent work (Bandelj, Wherry, & Zelizer, 2017; Dodd, 2014; Maurer, 2015; Zelizer, 2017), as well as research coming out of the $2 and $2 at the $2 at Amsterdam. The paper negotiates mobile and social payment apps and the social realities that they stand upon and applies theoretical viewpoints from these key authors to the emerging technologies, based on a contemporary investigation of what 'social' entails in social payment spaces. The empirical core of this work-in-progress employs the walkthrough method (Light et al., 2016), and compares select mobile and social payment platforms. Furthermore, researchers content-analyze app store screenshots, as well as app descriptions and user comments. Preliminary analysis maps these apps on a continuum of sociality/publicness, with Venmo and its social feed on the liberal side of the spectrum, apps that integrate into messenger services in the middle (e.g. Apple Pay Cash, Square Cash, Google Pay), and apps borne out of banking (Zelle) on the conservative side. Criteria for analysis follow conceptual categories from the literature, such as visibility, objectivity, freedom from everything personal, gifting, earmarking capacities, and other features.

David Nieborg, Chris Young, Daniel Joseph
In this paper, we introduce the notion of app imperialism by exploring the political economy of the Canadian iOS App Store. Building on Dal Yong Jin's concept of "platform imperialism", we argue that US companies dominate global app stores through the systematic acquisition of capital resources. App imperialism marks the outsized economic footprint and influence of US companies in national app stores. Using a longitudinal financial dataset, we qualitatively coded the top-50 of revenue-generating game apps in April 2015 and 2016. Distinguishing between value creation (generating revenue) and value capture (appropriating profit) allowed us to determine the plight of Canadian app developers. While the Canadian App Store exhibits a large degree of source diversity, featuring a high number of active app developers, we found the ability of Canadian developers to both create and capture value negligible. US owned developers, publishers, parent-organizations, and intellectual properties, on the other hand, were overrepresented. These initial findings suggest that any potential growth in the Canadian app economy will be increasingly captured by US-owned companies. These results question the effectiveness of Canadian cultural policy frameworks, which have been particularly proactive in supporting Canada-based game studios. While our initial analysis offers just a temporal and regional snapshot of the App Store's political economy, it gestures towards broader critical material issues related to platform capitalism and app diversity.

avatar for José van Dijck

José van Dijck

Professorin für Medienwissenschaften, Universität Utrecht
José van Dijck ist Professorin für Medienwissenschaften an der Universität Utrecht. Ihr Forschungsschwerpunkt liegt auf der digitalen Gesellschaft, wobei sie sich mit Medientheorien, Medien- und Kommunikationstechnologien, Sozialen Medien und der digitalen Kultur beschäftigt... Read More →
avatar for David Nieborg

David Nieborg

Asst. Professor, University of Toronto

Friday October 12, 2018 2:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Sheraton - Drummond Centre