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Data + Markets Landscape Analysis

Data + Markets Landscape Analysis

The economic implications of digital data are fast-evolving. It’s hard to keep track of scholarly and civil society analyses, let alone the news. In preparation for the Data + Markets workshop, the Developing Data? team has curated a landscape analysis. We hope the following resources will be useful in preparing for the workshop and subsequently. Should you have suggestions, please be in touch: DevelopingData [at] ed.ac.uk

1. The Growth of the Data Economy

Digital data is one of the most important contemporary resources. From government and industry to civil society and academia, the digital traces collected from mobile phones and Internet activity are a commodity to be harvested, bought, and sold. Like any market, this has implications for consumer welfare, productive possibilities, and economic inequality. In this section we move past a concern with how development actors can use digital data to explore how data is transforming private enterprise, with implications for employment, competitiveness, and industrial policy.  The readings collected offer a number of approaches for understanding the data economy. Starting with a discussion of what sorts of data are being created and captured, they then turn to discussions of the regimes of property, control, and surveillance that constitute data markets. A final batch of readings look at value creation, policies for digital economies, and concerns about equitable growth in data markets.

Guiding Resources:

2. Regulating Data

Digital technologies use data in a wide range of sophisticated and rapidly changing ways. As a result, a specific set of challenges have been created for regulators, which is complicated by the fact that different types of digital technology require different regulatory approaches. In East Africa, as elsewhere, governments have been criticised for being slow to respond to these challenges. Much of the region’s data governance comes through a patchwork of international law, constitutional law, tax law, industry specific regulations, and professional standards. Although recently there has been some data-specific legislation, such as Kenya’s Data Protection Act (2019) and Uganda’s Data Protection and Privacy Act (2019), questions remain about the suitability and enforceability of these Acts. This theme looks at how, in addition to adapting to social and political environments, data markets co-evolve with legal frameworks. It also considers debates surrounding the future of the governance of data, in which proposals for substantial re-organisation of regulatory regimes – for example through the creation of data trusts – tend to be met with resistance from companies who own the most valuable data.

Guiding Resources:

3. Data & Digital Labour

Behind the apparent invisible workings of the digital economy is human labour, who performs a variety of tasks involving manipulating digital data. We call this digital labour. Driverless cars, search engines, recommendation systems, and the social media content we see on our Facebook/Twitter timeline is made possible by this digital labour. This digital labour can now be sourced from locations that were previously not considered to be a central node in the global information economy, for example, Africa. In the context of high unemployment rates and high informal employment, digital labour has implications for employment, poverty, inequality and development. We approach this from a multidisciplinary angle to explore the growth of digital labour in East Africa and its developmental impacts on workers who are brought into the networks of the global digital economy. Therefore, in this section, we are concerned not just by what kind of digital tasks are being performed to develop/produce digital goods (nature and kind), but also where do these get done (geography), who is performing (kind of labour), for whom and for what purposes (network and power), and what are the impacts of this digital labour in Africa (development).

Guiding Resources:

4. Data + Money

Kenya has been a world-leading market for the use of digital technology in finance, and the earlier growth of M-Pesa has given rise to a variety of other services. Many of these translate digital data into credit scores, using records of digital behavior and relations as evidence of credibility and financial futures. Such lending businesses are now spreading across East Africa, and further afield, but important questions about equity, fairness, and regulation remain. This section looks at how data became a resource for financial services, the politics of digital infrastructures, and regulatory challenges from the merger of telecommunications and finance. In addition to the experience of fintech in Kenya — which has occasioned fears of a consumer debt crisis — we include assessments of financial technology in countries such as China, India, and the United States, showing how the politics of data (its capture, control, and interpretation) reflect developments particular to national contexts and broader transformations in the creation of value, the control of information, and the shaping of economic futures.

Guiding Resources:

5. Digital Identification, Surveillance & Privacy

Low and middle income countries are rolling out sophisticated digital ID systems for population management, surveillance, and public services. In some cases, these incorporate existing sources of data, such as registration systems managed by mobile network operators. Digital ID policies are also consolidating previous population management systems such as criminal databases, voter rolls, and in the process increasing government’s surveillance power. The systems are also universalising and normalising surveillance of sectors of the population previously not targeted, for example children. This theme explores the drivers, politics, and struggles around digital identity.

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6. Equity & Inclusion in Data Economies

What is the relationship between entrepreneurship, investment, and inequality? How do dynamic markets reproduce, exacerbate, or undermine gendered and racial inequalities? Does finance see in colour? These are lively questions across Africa’s data economy, with recent debates about ‘white fronting’ and expatriate management bringing complex issues of financial and social capital, technical acumen, and historical legacies together. The readings here aim to provide some context and empirical evidence to sustain a thoughtful, productive engagement with how to create inclusive & equitable data economies. 

  • Ngoasong, Michael Zisuh. ‘Digital Entrepreneurship in a Resource-Scarce Context’. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 2018.
  • Huang, Julia. To Be an Entrepreneur: Social Enterprise and Disruptive Development in Bangladesh. Cornell University Press, 2020.
 
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