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Data Is Labor: Why We Need Data Unions

It’s time to unionize and take back the wealth created by personal data, says a leading activist….



Nov 15, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. UTC

Data Is Labor: Why We Need Data Unions

In the aftermath of a divisive U.S. presidential election that seems to mark the tail end of the 20th Century, I’m reminded of the daughters of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The “Mill Girls” of Lowell, Mass., made up 75% of all textile workers in the U.S. In the 1830s, they took jobs to put their brothers through college and feed their families. These young women, starting to work at age 15, were the fabric of their community’s economic production. It was the close-knit nature of their sisterhood that became what we now know as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO.

Labor has traditionally organized people in a common cause like union representation. Most of us have had to sell our labor for capital that someone else owns, giving us an incentive to work for common workplace standards. But that traditional labor-for-capital model has been joined by another driver of economic activity. Now our data is the labor that drives capital creation and distribution. And it’s time for us to take back what our communities are owed. 

James Felton Keith is the author of “Inclusionism,” founding president of the Data Union, and advisory board member at the Streamr Network.

The Lowell organizing efforts were notable not only for the “unfeminine” participation of women, but also for the political framework used to appeal to the public. They warned that “the oppressing hand of avarice would enslave us.” They used this sentiment in an 1836 strike song. 

Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I

Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?

Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave,

For I’m so fond of liberty,

That I cannot be a slave.

In the modern era newspapers, NGOs and government officials from every continent are asking, “Are we slaves to big data?” Unlike the community of mill women, we’re not organizing for wages, not alone, we’re organizing for income based on the value of our community-of-participants. The thread of our data is the seminal input to every company’s productivity.

In the EU

Last week, I received a leaked copy of the forthcoming European Data Governance Act (DGA). We anticipate some form of this legislation to pass the European Parliament in the March 2021 time frame. The legislation mentions “data unions” explicitly in sections 26 and 27. 

(26) An emerging variant are data cooperatives or data unions that seek to achieve a number of objectives…

(27) …data cooperatives as intermediaries between data subjects and potential data users in the economy

Data unions (or cooperatives or collectives or communities) are a relatively new-old concept for a new natural resource: personal data. Unlike its wage-based rival of time, data is what economists call a non-rival good, meaning multiple users can consume it at once. Per the language of Europe’s recently enacted privacy regulation (GDPR) both data controllers (big tech platforms) and data processors (lil’ app companies) can generate value on data about you and your community alongside other firms, in the words of rapper Future, At The Same Damn Time

Now our data is the labor that drives capital creation and distribution. And it’s time for us to take back what our communities are owed.

There is a market failure here. All good markets produce adequate arbitrageurs (arbs), and in the current market the argument about 1) what data is, 2) the price of data and 3) who is owed it, is one-sided. One who engages in arbitrage, an individual or an institution, has a formal opinion on the value (i.e. price) of a good. In this case a good is your data. 

One example of a current data union is the software application Swash. The app provides transparency on the monetization of your browser data and in-turn provides the opportunity to offer a different opinion in price. This is where a data union gets interesting. If entity A (your browser) suggests that your data is worth an amount for their identifiable buyers and entity B (an app like Swash) suggests that your data is worth another amount, a third party can technically participate in the buyers market for your data to arb an actual price.  

Another example of a current data union is the Data Dividend Project’s attempt to litigate on behalf of what we call data subjects (people) to seek redress for mispricing or misuse of a particular community’s personal data through its technological or non-technological platform. The success of a data union seeking legal remedies would ideally trigger the implementation of a technological data union, like the app mentioned.

Data unions can bring balance to a business case as exploitative as the music industry’s treatment of talent that puts their community’s culture on display. On the heels of the European Union passing the DGA, I am anticipating a wave of data cooperatives to pop up in an ad hoc way, based on the demand of visionary labor activists across all continents that host transnational companies. I’m aware of at least 50 data unions organizing in the shadows of the western world right now. 

Three ways

There are three ways we can make data unions happen.

Data Union as a Policy is a method of insisting that cooperatives of data subjects (individuals) exist, by elected officials and governmental bodies. 

Data Union as a Lawsuit is a method of data subjects suing data users (institutions) for redress in scenarios where there are claims by individuals for indemnification.

Data Union as Tech is a method of embedding technologies that create a distribution mechanism for rightful compensation based on transactions between data subjects and users.

In the 2020s, these three types of data union methods will fortify a new way of indemnifying people for their participation in the world. I think it’ll transform how people view economics, ethics and human rights. With the EU’s DGA passing, I expect to see dozens of organized labor groups adopt some form of data union approach.

This generation will know that its #DataIsLabor. 




World’s Oldest Central Bank Extends Digital Currency Test Till 2022

Riksbank said it would continue developing a technical solution for a central bank-issued e-krona under its pilot project.



Sweden’s Riksbank said it would continue work with Accenture on a potential e-krona digital currency until next year.

(Mario Ortiz/Shutterstock)

Feb 17, 2021 at 10:12 a.m. UTC

World’s Oldest Central Bank Extends Digital Currency Test Till 2022

The world’s oldest central bank, Sweden’s Riksbank, is to extend its pilot project for a potential central bank digital currency (CBDC) for another 12 months.

According to a press release on Friday, the project, which is being carried out with assistance from professional services firm Accenture, will run until February 2022.

The Riksbank said it would continue developing a technical solution for a central bank-issued e-krona “as a complement to cash,” with the primary objective being for the bank to increase its knowledge around the technology.

For 2021, the institution will continue developing its potential digital currency offering with a focus on performance and scalability. Testing offline functions and bringing external participants into the test environment is also on the table.

The project has raised some concerns from Sweden’s commercial banking sector over the viability of a sovereign CBDC and how that would impact the entire banking system.

There is no final decision over the issuance of the e-krona despite strong lobbying from the central bank to government last year. But with traditional cash seeing falling use, even more so during the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden has been mulling a switch to the CBDC.

However, questions still remain over the digital currency’s ultimate design and underlying technology, according to Friday’s release.



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Bitcoin Mining: Wasted Energy or a Better, Greener System?

Harry Sudock, VP of strategy at GRIID Infrastructure on the modern energy landscape, how far we’ve come and where bitcoin mining fits.



Is it wasteful to use electricity mining bitcoin? As the Biden Administration settles into power with an ambitious agenda around clean energy, notably promising to eliminate carbon emissions from the US power generation sector by 2035, the question of bitcoin mining and it’s ever-growing use of energy bubbles up once more.

In this episode of ‘On Purpose, With Tyrone Ross,’ Harry Sudock, VP of strategy at GRIID Infrastructure joins the show to discuss the modern energy landscape, how far we’ve come and where bitcoin mining can fit into a sustainable energy system.

The greatest number of people living in poverty are children, we need to change that. If you can, get involved and give back to Love and Light. I appreciate you!

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Deutsche Bank Quietly Plans to Offer Crypto Custody, Prime Brokerage- CoinDesk

The bank’s game plan was hidden in plain sight in a widely overlooked report by the World Economic Forum.



The bank’s game plan was hidden in plain sight in a widely overlooked report by the World Economic Forum.

Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Feb 13, 2021 at 2:10 a.m. UTCUpdated Feb 13, 2021 at 2:18 a.m. UTC

Deutsche Bank Quietly Plans to Offer Crypto Custody, Prime Brokerage

Deutsche Bank has joined the growing ranks of large financial institutions exploring cryptocurrency custody, with aspirations to offer high-touch services to hedge funds that invest in the asset class.

The Deutsche Bank Digital Asset Custody prototype aims to develop “a fully integrated custody platform for institutional clients and their digital assets providing seamless connectivity to the broader cryptocurrency ecosystem,” according to a little-noticed report by the World Economic Forum, host of the annual gathering of muckety-mucks in Davos, Switzerland.

In a passage buried on page 23 of the December 2020 report, Germany’s largest bank says it plans to create a trading and token issuance platform, bridging digital assets with traditional banking services, and managing the array of digital assets and fiat holdings in one easy-to-use platform.

Big banks are now announcing plans to enter crypto custody on an almost daily basis, with Bank of New York Mellon, the world’s largest custodian bank, joining the party earlier this week.

U.S. banks were given some regulatory clarity thanks to last year’s interpretation letters from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. In Germany, firms are queuing up to get their hands on special crypto custody licenses from the country’s regulator, BaFIN.

Deutsche, the world’s 21st largest bank, said it aims to “ensure the safety and accessibility of assets for clients by offering an institutional-grade hot/cold storage solution with insurance-grade protection.” No specific cryptocurrencies or tokens are mentioned.

The digital asset custody platform would be launched in stages. It would eventually provide clients with the ability to buy and sell digital assets via a partnership with prime brokers (which act sort of like concierges for hedge funds), issuers and vetted exchanges.

The bank says it would also provide “value-added services such as taxation, valuation services and fund administration, lending, staking and voting, and provide an open-banking platform to allow onboarding of third-party providers.”

The service would be aimed at asset managers, wealth managers, family offices, corporates and digital funds, the bank said.

In terms of a business model, the bank would start out collecting custody fees, it said, later charging fees for tokenization and trading.

Deutsche said it has completed a proof of concept and is aiming for a minimum viable product in 2021, while exploring global client interest for a pilot initiative.

The bank’s press office could not be reached for comment Friday evening. A spokesperson had declined to comment on potential plans for a digital asset custody business when contacted last week by CoinDesk.



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