Making Data Private - and Excludable: A new approach to understanding the role of data enclosure in the digital political economy
Posted: 15 Nov 2022
Date Written: June 1, 2021
This exploratory paper links the economics of privacy and data (e.g., Acquisti et al, 2016; Jones & Tonetti, 2020) to an analysis of the industrial organization and governance of the internet (e.g., Kuerbis, Mueller and Panday, 2020). Its goal is to understand the impact of market-driven encryption and privacy initiatives on the political economy of data. Our work highlights how DNS encryption and the mobile platforms’ limitations on adtech are part of a much broader competitive struggle over the economic value of data. Encrypting DNS queries, for example, is not only a privacy-enhancing move, but also a means by which service providers compete with each other over the value and security of data. Enclosing data turns what was once a data commons (and a privacy problem) into a resource that a defined set of actor(s) in the digital ecosystem have more control over, and from which competitors can be excluded. The paper proceeds by first situating our analysis in the institutional economics literature on property rights, enclosures, and data. We then describe 1) some historical cases of enclosure using encryption; 2) the introduction of the DoH protocol as a way of enclosing DNS query data; 3) the enclosure of Apple and Google mobile identifiers used for mobile advertising. The institutional economic framework is shown to provide analytical traction for understanding and anticipating the public policy problems associated with this trend.
Keywords: data enclosure, privacy, encryption, competition, platforms
JEL Classification: L1, P84
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation