What is the labor that the consumer performs?
They produce data as well. This data is used to train artificial intelligence. The consumer produces a critical mass of exchanges and transactions that allow the platform to exist on the market. A consumer is an active and crucial part of the existence of the algorithm. They carry out a large amount of productive actions every day, which are similar to those of digital workers. Even the users on Youtube are doing video moderation for free, by reporting those that are not appropriate. Anyone who uses Google is training the algorithm of the search engine to learn the terms most often sought based on the words entered into it, by us and by others. The consumer is a producer. The boundaries between these economic actors are converging, to the point that we can say that when a platform doesn’t want to pay you, they call you a “consumer,” while, if they are willing to pay you (a little), they call you a task worker or micro-worker.
You mentioned “free labor.” What is the role it plays in the digital economy?
This “free labor” was already defined by Tiziana Terranova 20 years ago. Even then, being online was labor, because it produced content for websites and for the sites that were called “portals” at the time. Over the past decade, this idea of free labor has changed, as we realized that the platforms aren’t just buying and selling our content — most importantly, they are buying and selling our personal data and personal information: which brands we like, or what time we usually listen to music; or where we are, using GPS. The free labor of the internet user is not creative work, but rather work done without awareness, and much less satisfactory, as it is invisible. As such, it is alienating, to the extent that we do not realize what the data is useful for, and how it will be used, when we solve a “captcha” on Google or add a tag to an image on Instagram.
What is this data used for?
It is used to produce monetary value for the large platforms that buy and sell information, but it is also used to create value for automation: to train artificial intelligence, teach the chat boxes to communicate with humans, and create virtual assistants like Siri on the iPhone or Alexa on Amazon, who speak to us and help us make choices, or even make them instead of us.