The "merchantable gratuitousness" platforms and the Free Digital Labor controversy: a new form of exploitation? - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Journal Articles Open Journal in Information Systems Engineering Year : 2020

The "merchantable gratuitousness" platforms and the Free Digital Labor controversy: a new form of exploitation?

Les plateformes de la gratuité marchande et la controverse autour du Free Digital Labor : une nouvelle forme d’exploitation ?

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Abstract

Cognitive capitalism and the informational revolution have gone hand in hand with a blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure time. At the heart of this evolution is the rise of platform capitalism, and in particular the “merchantable gratuitousness” platforms, like Google and Facebook, which have now taken first place in the ranking of world firms in terms of stock market capitalisation and profitability. Their profit model is based on the logic of multi-sided markets and combines the sale of online advertising and the extraction of user data. The users thus represent both the product and the producers of the main raw material underlying the organisation of the advertising market for merchantable gratuitousness platforms. This is called Free Digital Labor. This concept refers to the activity, apparently both gratuitous and self-governing, performed, often unknowingly, by a multitude of individuals on the internet for the benefit of big internet oligopolies and data industries. The Free Digital Labor thesis is highly controversial. It is often rejected by means of three main arguments: 1. it would be, not labor, but the intangible capital of the algorithm which, through an automated process, would extract and create most of the value; 2. the Free Digital Labor would escape not only the canonical criteria of wage labor, but also the anthropological definition of labor as a conscious and voluntary goal-oriented activity; 3. the free services proposed by the platforms would be remuneration in kind, excluding any relationship of exploitation. Our contribution aims to clarify the terms of this debate and to respond to these objections through a historical and theoretical analysis of the changes in the capital-labor relationship that occurred under the aegis of platform capitalism.
Le capitalisme cognitif et la révolution informationnelle sont allés de pair avec un effritement des frontières entre temps de travail et temps libre. Au centre de cette évolution se trouve l'essor du capitalisme des plateformes et notamment des plateformes de la « gratuité marchande » qui, à l'image de Google et Facebook, ont désormais conquis le premières places dans le classement des firmes mondiales en termes de capitalisation boursières et de rentabilité. Leur modèle de profit repose sur la logique des marchés multi-versants et associe la vente de la publicité en ligne et l'extraction des données des usagers. Ces derniers représentent ainsi à la fois le produit et les producteurs de la principale matière première à la base de l'organisation du marché publicitaire des plateformes de la gratuité marchande. C'est ce que l'on nomme le Free Digital Labor. Par ce concept on désigne le travail à la fois gratuit et apparemment libre qu'une multitude d'individus effectue sur internet, souvent inconsciemment, au profit des grands oligopoles du numérique et des data industries. La thèse du Free Digital Labor suscite une vive controverse. Elle est souvent rejetée au moyen de trois principaux arguments : ce serait, non le travail, mais le capital immatériel de l'algorithme qui, par un processus automatisé, extrairait et créerait l'essentiel de la valeur ; le Free Digital Labor échapperait non seulement aux critères canoniques du travail salarié, mais aussi à la définition anthropologique du travail vu comme une activité consciente et volontaire orientée vers un but ; les services gratuits offerts par les plateformes correspondraient à une rémunération en nature excluant tout rapport d'exploitation. Notre contribution se propose d'élucider les termes de ce débat et de répondre à ces objections par une analyse historique et théorique des mutations du rapport capital/travail intervenues sous l'égide du capitalisme des plateformes. ABSTRACT. Cognitive capitalism and the informational revolution have gone hand in hand with a blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure time. At the heart of this evolution is the rise of platform capitalism, and in particular the "merchantable gratuitousness" platforms, like Google and Facebook, which have now taken first place in the ranking of world firms in terms of stock market capitalisation and profitability. Their profit model is based on the logic of multi-sided markets and combines the sale of online advertising and the extraction of user data. The users thus represent both the product and the producers of the main raw material underlying the organisation of the advertising market for merchantable gratuitousness platforms. This is called Free Digital Labor. This concept refers to the activity, apparently both gratuitous and self-governing, performed, often unknowingly, by a multitude of individuals on the internet for the benefit of big internet oligopolies and data industries. The Free Digital Labor thesis is highly controversial. It is often rejected by means of three main arguments: 1. it would be, not labor, but the intangible capital of the algorithm which, through an automated process, would extract and create most of the value; 2. the Free Digital Labor would escape not only the canonical criteria of wage labor, but also the anthropological definition of labor as a conscious and voluntary goal-oriented activity; 3. the free services proposed by the platforms would be remuneration in kind, excluding any relationship of exploitation. Our contribution aims to clarify the terms of this debate and to respond to these objections through a historical and theoretical analysis of the changes in the capital-labor relationship that occurred under the aegis of platform capitalism.
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Dates and versions

hal-02554288 , version 1 (30-04-2020)

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Carlo Vercellone. Les plateformes de la gratuité marchande et la controverse autour du Free Digital Labor : une nouvelle forme d’exploitation ?. Open Journal in Information Systems Engineering, 2020, Numéro spécial Impact des SI sur la démocratie dans les organisations, Vol. 1, (N. 2), ⟨10.21494/ISTE.OP.2020.0502⟩. ⟨hal-02554288⟩
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