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York University’s Kean Birch on “Rentiership,” the Data Economy, and Big Tech

York University’s Kean Birch on “Rentiership,” the Data Economy, and Big Tech

Jul 26, 2021

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"Assets are increasingly central to contemporary capitalism," said Kean Birch, an expert in technoscience and professor at York University, to Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of Priv8.

Kean was speaking about a rising form of value creation he calls "rentiership": the practice of extracting revenue from ownership of existing assets rather than producing new kinds of goods and services.

"It's essentially a claim on the future," Kean explained. "It's about owning future incomes and revenues" that stem from an asset's qualities: for example, productivity or scarcity. "These can be inherent to an asset, or they can be created and constructed" during a second process he dubbed "assetization."

Derek drew a parallel between Kean's "rentiership" concept and the data economy, mentioning the popular mantra that "data is the new oil"

"Data isn't just oil, per se," Kean replied. "It's also something that has other kinds of qualities to it--one being that it's a creation of our lives." Because of this, "there's an interesting, 'reflexive' element to it: the more we know about what people do with our data, the more we change our behaviors." This, in turn, "leads to a change in the quality of the data that's collected."

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"Unlike oil, there's a need for continual collection [of data], rather than extraction and sale," Kean said.

Derek also pointed out that like oil, data isn't very scarce. Kean agreed, adding that "in order for it to be valuable, you need to collect a lot of it ... you need to invest a lot of money to extract enough data to make it valuable." This means that data collection is only truly profitable and accessible for the world's largest corporations.

"Big tech firms are advantaged by their ability and capacity to collect and create a lot of data, and are able to extract a lot of value from their use and exploitation of it," Kean said. "I'm interested in how they go about collecting data, how they go about governing and managing that data, and how they go about valuing that data. Why is it that these companies are valued at [trillions] of dollars?"

Check out Derek's entire conversation with Kean. And don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.

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Feb 22, 2021
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