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Should We Treat Data as Labor? Moving beyond "Free"


  • Imanol Arrieta-Ibarra
  • Leonard Goff
  • Diego Jiménez-Hernández
  • Jaron Lanier
  • E. Glen Weyl


In the digital economy, user data is typically treated as capital created by corporations observing willing individuals. This neglects users' roles in creating data, reducing incentives for users, distributing the gains from the data economy unequally, and stoking fears of automation. Instead, treating data (at least partially) as labor could help resolve these issues and restore a functioning market for user contributions, but may run against the near-term interests of dominant data monopsonists who have benefited from data being treated as "free." Countervailing power, in the form of competition, a data labor movement, and/or thoughtful regulation could help restore balance.

Suggested Citation

  • Imanol Arrieta-Ibarra & Leonard Goff & Diego Jiménez-Hernández & Jaron Lanier & E. Glen Weyl, 2018. "Should We Treat Data as Labor? Moving beyond "Free"," AEA Papers and Proceedings, American Economic Association, vol. 108, pages 38-42, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:apandp:v:108:y:2018:p:38-42
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/pandp.20181003

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    Cited by:

    1. Maria Savona, 2019. "The Value of Data:Towards a Framework to Redistribute It," SPRU Working Paper Series 2019-21, SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School.
    2. Paola Tubaro, 2019. "La vie privée, un bien commun ?," Post-Print hal-02196333, HAL.
    3. Cristina VOINEA & Radu USZKAI, 2019. "An Ethical Framework For Digital Afterlife Industries," Proceedings of the INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE, Faculty of Management, Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest, Romania, vol. 13(1), pages 1179-1184, November.
    4. Padmashree Gehl Sampath, 2018. "Industrial Policy 4.0 Promoting Transformation in the Digital Economy," GDAE Working Papers 18-04, GDAE, Tufts University.
    5. Couldry, Nick & Mejias, Ulises, 2019. "Making data colonialism liveable: how might data's social order be regulated?," Internet Policy Review: Journal on Internet Regulation, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG), Berlin, vol. 8(2), pages 1-16.
    6. Oliver Falck & Johannes Koenen, 2020. "Rohstoff „Daten“: Volkswirtschaflicher Nutzen von Datenbereitstellung – eine Bestandsaufnahme," ifo Forschungsberichte, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, number 113, October.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C80 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • J42 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Monopsony; Segmented Labor Markets


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