Internet Rent

April 21, 2021

No year has been more revealing than 2020 in terms of how we are divided into two economies: the many who have been struggling to make ends meet while trying to avoid getting infected by a dangerous virus, and the few, who control the companies that are now an essential part of everyday life.

2020 by the numbers

According to tech critic Paris Marc,

  • Billionaires added $3.9 trillion to their wealth
  • Whereas workers globally lost $3.7 trillion in earnings

Monopoly money

In an economy that is shrinking for many and growing for few, the defining features of many digital platforms have been to be a monopoly no matter what. And this model has proved to be good business as users often have no other options but to use a specific platform.

The internet of landlords

This approach is best understood as an expansion of rentierism - owning property and extracting rent from those who live and work on it. This Internet of Landlords is transforming our social and economic interactions into services that are mediated by corporate platforms.

Think of what Amazon does for e-commerce, or what Google does for search and productivity tools. In our everyday life, we are forced to deal with an ever-growing number of landlords (often without choice), constantly paying the rent with our money and our data. By controlling the property that is required for productive and essential work and life activities, these companies hold a tremendous amount of power over the people who use these products.

Data control

Crafting policies that address data control could potentially address some of these issues. We can find inspiration in similar policies like rent and capital control. By restricting the conditions and purposes for capturing and using data, we could begin to redistribute power away from these platforms in the digital economy.