Transition to the information society (Part 4: Citizens as data)

Transition to the information society (Part 4: Citizens as data)

Phuah Eng Chye (14 October 2023)

Digitalisation and datafication are inevitable aspects of the transition to an information society. Digitalisation is underpinned by expanding connectivity across networks, platforms, IOT, devices and supported by big data, cloud computing and AI in farms, factories, services, logistics, finance and communications. Digitalisation paves the way towards datafication of citizens where individuals are electronically identifiable by unique codes (e.g. ID numbers) or biometrics. The IDs can be automatically linked to a citizen’s background details, transactions, movements, finances, preferences, conversations, photos and videos. Physicality becomes less of a requirement as well as less of a constraint. The information society is centred around citizens’ data rather than their physical presence with actions driven by data and the need for human intervention minimised.

The significance of datafication

It is pointless worrying about a futuristic surveillance dystopia. Instead, we should analyse the possibilities, opportunities and risks about the type of society emerging from datafication and how they should be managed. In these discussions, it is best to be agnostic about ideology and religion – though there are overlaps affecting the sharing of power. It is best to start by understanding the significance of datafication.

First, datafication leads to modularity. This is because information is atomistic and built around the smallest element – individuals rather than households or communities. Modularity disrupts traditional relationships and organisational structures in the same way that derivatives disrupt finance. Modularity facilitates recombination of individual elements at the aggregate level. This  improves calibration and flexibility, expands diversity, and increases autonomy, complexity and transience. Managing modularity require holistic, generic, dynamic and integration approaches.

Second, datafication underpins data-centric and data-driven approaches. Many initiatives can be rearranged or reorganised around individuals (rather than segments or institutions). Placing individual citizens at the center of the universe changes perspectives and triggers massive paradigm shifts. Structures, roles, laws, relationships, obligations and cultures alter for families, communities, education, work, and governments. These shifts have implications for social cohesion and societal order.

Third, datafication results in end-product bundled pricing as it enables a multi-layer supply chain with multiple specialist suppliers contributing to the final product. In particular, services and information goods tend to be sold on a bundled basis and this obscures ownership claims. The absence of specific pricing for individual elements makes it difficult to allocate the value of data.

The core of datafication are digital IDs which are essential for authenticating and connecting individuals in a device-synchronised environment. The most important advantage of a digital ID platform is its ability to function as a single source of truth. Confining data reconciliation to a single source improves data quality (reduce errors and improves authentication) which results in massive savings and efficiencies. This has a significant positive impact on the value of data.

However, there has been much criticism of ID systems. The concentration of personal and sensitive data increases vulnerabilities to exposure, fraud, and data and identity theft. Non-resolution of data errors, the difficulty of correcting inaccuracies and reversing errors (given the high transaction speeds) has discriminatory and exclusionary effects particularly if IDs are linked to a wide range of activities – banking, insurance, social welfare, employment and healthcare. In addition, IDs and digital systems (face recognition, location tracking and CBDCs) can be used to surveil and control individuals to the point of being oppressive.

According to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “many consider rapid and widescale deployment of such digital ID systems to be dangerous. Evidence is emerging from many countries around the world about actual and potential, often severe and large-scale, human rights violations linked to this model of digital ID. Such systems may exacerbate pre-existing forms of exclusion and discrimination in public and private services. The use of new technologies may lead to new forms of harm, including biometric exclusion, discrimination, and the many harms associated with surveillance capitalism. Meanwhile, the promised benefits of such systems have not been convincingly proven.

Despite these doubts, the trend towards digital IDs appears inevitable because the benefits from efficiency and convenience appear overwhelming. The implementation of digital IDs is its early phases and teething problems will be mitigated over time. The main issue is whether governments would establish guardrails to prevent these systems from becoming exploitative and oppressive. Vigilant oversight and pro-active initiatives are needed to resolve problems as they crop up. As a matter of completion, governments should ensure up their digital architectures make relevant information available at the lowest cost to maximise convenience, reduce errors and time-to-completion, and provide accurate information to assist decision-making.

One of the most ambitious ID systems is the India Stack. The Emissary describes: “India Stack is a coordinated symphony of technology to help governments, businesses, startups, and developers utilize a digital infrastructure and unique API (Applied Programming Interface)…This stack of data combines universal biometric data (a fingerprint), digital records, access to financial accounts such as banks and digital wallets, and the consent to send and retrieve the aforementioned data”. Aadhar[1] is the “biometric base of India Stack, where iris scans and fingerprints match up with a unique numerical ID that is now necessary to acquire government welfare and social services” as well as for bank accounts and cell phone contracts. eKYC is linked to Aadhar to “help stakeholders verify a customer’s identity and information” while eSign facilitates an Aadhaar holder to electronically sign a form/document. This is supported by a Unified Payment Interface (UPI) to facilitate instantaneous money transactions on smartphones and Digital Locker, a cloud linked to Aadhar that contains essential documents and certificates such as voter ID, driver’s licenses and school certificates: removing the need for physical documents. Data Empowerment & Protection Architecture (DEPA) will oversight data sovereignty with citizens controlling their essential data by being able to consent to its distribution to stakeholders such as lenders, insurance companies, and beyond.

Reset rules for an orderly democracy

Where data is concerned, fears vastly exceed aspirations. Futuristic visions of the information society are skewed to the dark side; generally anticipating forms of digital authoritarianism to control dissent and supress the mass population. In contrast, visions of a democratic digital society where data is used to enhance public goods are lacking.

At the outset, it should be acknowledged digitalisation and datafication are not prerequisites for mass surveillance and suppression. Manual (human) forms of surveillance (Russia during 1930-53 under Stalin’s rule and the Cultural Revolution in China during 1966–1976) were characterised by secret police and concentration\labour camps. While there were attempts to control thought and behaviours but the worst aspect is physical coercion. The point is that physical harm is likely more damaging than digital harm.

It is also debatable whether the risks of “information power abuse” is greater in authoritarian or democratic regimes. Authoritarian regimes probably find it easier to centralise control over information. But they are unlikely to turn into Orwellian dystopias due to the incompatibility between authoritarianism and information transparency. In essence, authoritarian regimes can only maintain their grip on power by degrading (sabotaging or manipulating) information quality, drastically reducing information transparency and maintaining high levels of physical coercion.

A benevolent and technologically-competent authoritarian regime – China being the prime example –  that can overcome information quality and transparency hurdles will be in a position to leverage their authoritarian power to enhance economic coordination and efficiency, curb public and private misconduct, improve governance processes and reduce incidences of physical coercion. Albeit, the temptation to abuse absolute power may ultimately prove difficult to resist.

Democratic societies have not proven immune to information power abuses. The track record is mixed among “democratic” developing countries. Among developed countries, strong institutions and secular liberal cultures have acted as a system of checks and balances against potential abuses. However, these controls have been dissipated by peer-to-peer networks, the autonomous nature of data and datafication’s individual-centricity. Data silos remain isolated due to privacy demands, commercial hoarding and national security concerns. This degrades data quality and transparency and inhibits the ability of institutions to play an effective role in safeguarding against information power abuses. Looming threats, as reflected by information disorder and social instability, driven by polarisation, geopolitical conflicts, national security concerns have revived populism. Populist movements, which may be ideological or religious-based, are actively clamouring a more aggressive stance against competing beliefs and seeking to supress challenges to their narratives. Information disorder is thus undermining the basic governance in democratic societies.

Despite perfunctory statements to the contrary, the internet has yet to prove itself as a public platform for civil debate and participation. Most web-based forums, X or WhatsApp/Tik-Tok groups tend to be dominated by small groups of individuals, influencers or click farms. Comments or conversations tend to be superficial, emotional and, worse still, often rude or fake. The majority remain silent and withdrawn. In these situations, democracy and truth will decay as society becomes harsher, less tolerant and forgiving of differences.

The challenge is to modify the social compact between governments and citizens and evolve institutions and rules to preserve democracy based on the datafication of citizens. This requires a re-examination of:

  • Industrial society notions of capitalism and democracy straddling worker rights, ownership rights and individual rights (privacy, free speech and equality).
  • The framework and processes for governance to empower individuals to exercise voice and choice in data-driven processes. However, choices have consequences and are seldom easily reversible. Thus choice needs to be accompanied by a sense of accountability and responsibility and the finality of decision-making.
  • The advocacy of virtues such as trust, fairness, tolerance, common sense, reasonableness, compassion and forgiveness as a means of neutralising populism, anger, sanitisation, harshness, complexity and transience.  
  • Strengthening two-way transparency as a defence against state/private information suppression and as a means of empowering and protecting the rights of citizens.

Economic paradigms based on datafication

Hayek’s critique of central planning[2] were made at a time when economies were information-primitive. Conditions have changed with the enlargement of the digital relative to the physical. Platforms are replacing physical markets and governments in calibrating prices, resource allocation and payments on a real-time basis. The expansion in data availability and quality have reduced information blind spots and yielded significant coordination and efficiency gains around the world. In recent years, there has been a backlash against globalisation. Government interventions in the West through price regulation, protectionist barriers and industrial policies represent a fusion of market mechanisms and central planning and resulting in the convergence of capitalist and socialist economies.

In my view, datafication shifts the economic paradigm from the aggregate to the modular. In relation to this,  governments were the main collectors, gatekeepers and owners of citizen’s data until their monopoly was challenged by the emergence of global platforms. In this context, data rights shape the public and private sector roles[3]. It leads to two critical questions.

First, who has overall ownership and controlling rights over citizen’s data? If governments don’t control the data, it would face difficulty in managing the country effectively. The strategic importance of data is highlighted by the fact that control shifts to the parties that control the data. Should global platforms then be allowed to own and control citizen’s data? I think most countries (except US) would come to the view this concedes too much power outside of the sovereignty. This is why there was such a strong reaction when Facebook proposed to launch their private digital currency. New laws have been introduced to enable governments to exercise greater oversight over platform data and increase data reporting requirements accompanied by privacy and national security constraints on how the global platforms store and use data. China has declared data as a factor of production in recognition of its impact on social relations and signifying that data is effectively a public good that governments should manage for the benefit of the community.

Second, how is the value generated from the data to be shared? This depends on control of the data. At the macroeconomic level, governments collect a lot of data for revenue collection purposes as well as to determine policies and expenditures. The shift of economic activities (and data) to global platforms has result in a leakage of tax revenues.

At the microeconomic level, there is considerable debate on whether value belongs to the platforms that collects or hosts the data by providing “free” services and is entitled to the revenues (by exploiting or selling the data of their customers); or to individuals (the source of data) or content creators. There have been attempts to construct mechanisms to ensure “fair” allocation of the value of data[4] to individuals and creators rather than allow platforms to capture the whole value. The debate is heating up over the use of data in training AI to create content and for other purposes.

Data-sharing arrangements[5] between governments and the private sector are critical. As a regulator, governments could legislate to force platforms to submit data. This would transform data, once owned by private firms, into a public good. But it is difficult to centralise control over data in peer-to-peer networks – particularly in relation to global platforms. The private sector is notably reluctant to share data for fear of diluting their information advantage. It is part of the culture of global platforms to defy government control as much as they can. This motivates private platforms to support privacy to protect their data. Hence, governments and private sector need to move on from their roles and relationships established during the industrial and early-globalisation eras. There is a need to reorganise the legal, economic and social aspects of data roles and relationships to ensure that society will benefit from opportunities and is positioned to cope with disruption and externalities.

China’s data “socialist” model and geopolitical implications

Many countries have launched digital, smart and informationalisation policies. But few match China’s commitment to its whole-of-society approach to data. China continues to push ahead on new technologies, disrupt industrial legacies and to revamp its legal framework to support digitalisation and datafication. David Dorman and John Hemmings explain “a Modernized Socialist Great Power rises from a digitally transformed and sinicized model of Marxism, not simply from new digital technologies…Borrowing the party’s current discourse on historical materialism, the productive impact of data intelligence on human development is reconstructing the Marxist forces of production (combined human productive powers)…Practically, data was incorporated as a new factor of production and designated the key factor over labor in a digital economy, effectively overwriting Marx’s labor theory of value. Politically, the party’s historical dependence on control of media, the military, and personnel for its own survival and the continuity of the authoritarian regime it leads also underwent a digital transformation about the same time, with the control of data added as a fourth essential principle of party control…essential role that Xi’s Digital China, the overall strategy for national informatized development in the new era, has been assigned to support the party’s quest to basically achieve…by 2035 as a modernized socialist country, and then rejuvenation by 2049 as a modernized socialist great power. In February 2014…Xi Jinping himself crystallized his theoretical insight with a single phrase: …without informatization, there will be no modernization”.

David Dorman and John Hemmings adds “in Beijing’s view, although the global competition over technology is fundamentally about ideology, in concrete terms the competition itself will be increasingly focused on big data. As the newest and most important factor of production in the digital age, data is comprehensively reconstructing global production, distribution, and consumption and becoming the high ground in the competition between major countries. Data has become so critical to the party’s forward thinking on socialist modernization that the theoretical construct for technology-driven modernization has been revised, for both the civilian and military spheres. Once described only in terms of informatization (applying information technology), a new and perhaps more critical lane has now been added: digitalization (applying value to data)…We must…give full play to the driving and leading role of informatization and digitalization in Chinese-Style Modernization. In the party’s view, the West focuses haphazardly on the competition over individual digital technologies. Beijing focuses long term on the competition over big data, and developing the complex digital ecosystems that will enable its intelligent application”.

Dylan Levi King notes “Tu Zipei, the former Alibaba executive and theorist of social governance, has called the proposed Chinese model single-particle governance. The model integrates data from government and commercial sources into individual master files that become the elementary particle. This idea doesn’t come from Maoist egalitarian politics or Dengist market horizontality, but from online shopping and social media platforms. Fittingly, it will run on software developed by commercial digital technology firms, like Huawei, Tencent, and Alibaba…Such a system would fundamentally change the political culture. Horizontality requires not just individual autonomy, but also a sense that local communities or interests can be organized and exercise some kind of collective agency…Xi’s verticality only requires a population that can be effectively managed. The state can fulfill the interests and express the will of a broad population of abstracted social individuals without having to rely too much on the human judgments of local cadres at all. Despite the party’s centralism, it has always operated through a huge matrix of institutions: schools, planning committees, workers’ organizations, cultural groups, trade boards, and many others. A person’s political identity was linked in part to the collective bodies in which they participated. But with an urbanizing population that is increasingly integrated into service economies instead of life-long economic or social roles, the bases for these collective expressions of political identity are disappearing…As the population atomizes, the government seems intent on creating a stronger civic Chinese identity and wants its citizens to politically relate primarily to the national government. Their aggressive cultural assimilation policy in Xinjiang is one example of this. But so is the new rhetoric about data-driven governance: it presumes a population where the individual is a data-generating automaton whose activities are input for the state to work with, with few or no intervening social structures. The logic of big data governance at its highest scale appears horizontal in flattening the inputs into decision making. It de-emphasizes the importance of political, economic, and intellectual elites but also of local government. It also increasingly removes the possibility of a cadre-managed collective autonomy in goals and decisions”.

Dylan Levi King explains “Xi’s invocation of the fourth industrial revolution puts him in a path of explicit convergence with the surveillance individualism that has come to characterize Western liberal democracies. The causes and rhetoric differ, but the result seems remarkably similar: an increasingly powerful national state, ideologically and structurally centralized around the national elite, governing an increasingly atomized population. In this new ideal of digital governance, the individualized population is rendered into legible, data-generating citizens strictly governed by a single centralized discourse of possibility…What is in danger under centralization of power with these technologies is the radical heterogeneity made possible by horizontality. Save for the direct intervention of the party, a local cadre could act in the best interests of the local authority and its citizens; the decisions a local cadre made did not have to take a strict interpretation of official ideological orthodoxy. Vertical management can only act in the interests of and by the logic of its central management; the consumer desires of its elementary particles are researched, quantified, and then minimally satisfied. The key difference is that the centralized model has much less room for handling the complexity of local collective problems. Everything is done through the lens of the center. What the party stands to lose is the collective temperament and culture of a cadre base inculcated in the pragmatic, experimental, and innovative environments of the last few decades. This was the environment that reared up a generation of Chinese leaders, including Xi himself”.

China’s Central Commission for Cybersecurity and Informatization[6] assessed the construction of the national data resource system was lagging and that the value potential of data factors has not yet been effectively activated. There was a need to address unresolved systemic problems that hindered data flow, strengthened the infrastructure to support the development of the data sector and create standardized platforms for cross-border exchange of data. In its Overall layout plan for the construction of Digital China[7], the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and State Council outlined intentions to harness data resources by building up the national data management system and mechanisms, promoting aggregation and utilization of public data, building national data resource banks in public health, science and technology, and education, establishing a data property rights system, and exploring data asset valuation and mechanisms for distribution of value contributions. Towards this end, a National Data Bureau was established to replace the Cyberspace Administration in overseeing implementation of Digital China – including the implementation of Beijing’s long-term digitization plan, the development of smart cities as well as to take up the State Council’s responsibilities for the planning of China’s Big Data strategy and digital infrastructure.

Is China’s data “socialist” model the right pathway to the information society? The model is exploratory but it goes further than any other country in trying to figure out how best to organise and regulate data. China is not constrained by legacy, surveillance or job concerns. Data regulation appears aimed at forcibly opening up data silos (among provinces and agencies) to facilitate integration and centralisation of information power. One advantage China enjoys is that the autonomous nature of data matches the secularism ideals of socialism and that of governance challenges – namely addressing modularity by binding individuals within a community and increasing central governance control over provinces.

The rapid rise of China suggests technologically-oriented and unrestrained regimes  have the advantage of organisational cohesion and execution. In contrast, democracies seem to lack a binding centrifugal force. This causes them to appear disorganised, prone to disorder and to lose economic efficiency. Democratic societies do not seem well positioned to manage the relocation of risks, rising friction costs and the speed of financial contagion and creative/capital destruction.

David Dorman and John Hemmings observed “mostly unknown in the West, Digital China has profound implications for China’s developmental path, great power competition, and for the norms that will undergird the international system for decades to come. Beijing hopes to leverage a latecomer’s advantage to win what it sees as the new focal point of great power competition in the digital age: the race to design and build the world’s first nationally integrated system of rules, institutions, and technology to comprehensively manage big data and its intelligent application. This expresses itself in the Digital China strategy’s intense focus on the governance and control of data, a process Beijing calls the new stage in national informatization. Equally important, the Communist Party also now considers the control of data to be essential to its own survival, on par with the control of media, the military, and personnel. Rooted in Marxist theory, the Digital China strategy is both deeply transformative and deeply competitive. In effect, it is the world’s first digital grand strategy. Internally, the party’s deft control of data will create the world’s first Smart Society, demonstrating to China’s citizens and the world that capitalism has nothing to offer over socialism. Externally, a successful Digital China strategy will usher in an era of Chinese innovation that brings with it great power status across multiple strategic domains, civilian and military. Although a self described monumental task, party leaders believe that Digital China is the strategy that will enable China to win the digital age”. The 2016 Outline of the National Informatization Development Strategy states: With further developments in world multipolarization, economic globalization, cultural diversification, and social informatization; and profound change in the global governance system; whoever occupies the high ground of informatization will be able to seize the first opportunity, win the advantage, win security, and win the future.”

David Dorman cautions “in coming decades, democratic nations are confronted by the possibility of the world’s first authoritarian hegemonic power. Technologies associated with Digital China, their manufacture and standards, and how they integrate data into forms of control, should be of immense concern to those states that continue to prize political and individual rights. Digital China’s technology projects are highly integrated at both the national and the global level, and Beijing intends to export its technical standards, its network architecture, and the governance model implicit in those. As an early indicator, Beijing has already expressed interest in the gradual deployment of data centers in support of Digital China’s industrial internet to countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. As mentioned earlier, the Communist Party’s approach to data is both Marxist and authoritarian in nature and exerts a sort of totality of control over individuals that could ultimately impact nations enticed by Digital China’s New Type Infrastructure”.

The emergence of China’s data “socialism” model will intensify the competition and conflict with the West’s industrial “capitalism” model. The risk for the West is that if China’s model proves successful, more countries will adopt China’s policies on data and this will place them further in China’s technological sphere with geopolitical and commercial implications. Overall, the likelihood is that more countries will adopt data policies[8] that are more assertive on their sovereign rights on data.

Next phase – government platforms

Society has already embraced platforms as the way forward for business, social and political interactions. At the moment, the main platforms are controlled by a handful of global – US or Chinese – technology firms. This is likely an unsatisfactory situation for most countries as they would feel they are ceding sovereign rights and control of their citizen’s data. There are consequences of the dependency on global platforms – the loss of control over domestic activities, citizens, narratives and fiscal revenues.

Governments are unlikely to leave the platform space uncontested. In the next phase,

governments will increasingly move from their scattered system of web portals and internet services towards a more centralised and citizen-centric system modelled on platforms such Facebook and WeChat. Governments will like create citizen-centric platforms (based on IDs and biometrics) to host and provide convenient access [applications and search, transactions and payments, content (customised updates on announcements and guidelines) and notices (offences), and citizen engagement (complaints)] via to government services such as employment, welfare, housing, healthcare, environment and public amenities. The platform can also host apps by government agencies, firms, educational institutions, entrepreneurs and social organisations. The government platform can also be used for data-intensive projects such as economic statistics, census  and voting registers.

In many ways, government platforms would complement as well as compete with global platforms. The global platforms mostly focus on capturing data and developing services based on for-profit objectives. But this implies a shortfall in the availability and delivery of public goods in the virtual world. The government platforms would therefore serve official rather than social purposes, be oriented towards community rather than commerce, national rather than global, and focused on public rather than on private goods. While the concerns that a government platform would grant governments too much power over their citizens are valid; these are grounds for vigilance rather resistance.

Notably, government platforms can compete with global platforms in serving local communities across a broad range of needs. This is timely as traditional community support structures have been ruptured by rising costs, modularity (smaller households), mobility (depopulation) and transience (gig employment). The government platform can be used to remodel and reorganise community support, engagement and collaboration along the new information capabilities. The new models for community organisation can aim to expand participation and activities, increase the value of data and human capital, address income and asset ownership and foster democracy. For example, participation (such as for students and unemployed) in community projects can be tied to government benefits (such as welfare, basic income, grants and incentives) and supported by firms and other institutions. Town councils can publish budgets and projects and citizens can post comments, documents, photos. Project progress and response time to complaints can be tracked. Focal points can be created to galvanise community participation. Particular attention can be given to educational issues and work prospects for children. Critically, the government platform can be positioned to create opportunities for monetisation and to link the community to external resources. For example, a community-organised yellow pages app can support the monetisation of local production, retail and services and improve local earnings and viability. This can be enhanced by connecting the local community to the national and international communities and markets. In this regard, communities can be revived by drawing on the talent, finance and demand of those who have left the community. For example, it can provide favourable terms to support small local players or low-income groups. A government platform can encourage community interaction by providing access to community developments, tools for citizens to vote on projects and priorities, voice their likes and dislikes, and to participate in policy discussions.

The introduction of government platforms has far-reaching implications because it would position governments to be on par and in direct competition with the global platforms. This alters the balance of power over citizens’ data in favour of governments and makes the global platforms replaceable; thereby reducing their bargaining power. In addition, governments can legislate to compel platforms to hand over their data or to restrict their access to government services, content and data. Government platforms are probably more effective than anti-trust regulation for addressing the domination of global platforms. Government platforms can provide alternative low-cost information and business channels which broadens choice for domestic customers and businesses. Relative to global platforms, government platforms[9] should be positioned to be authentic, transparent and trustworthy “safe” zones with access limited to citizens and authorised entities.

While there are risks of the relationship between governments and global platforms turning adversarial in some countries, the most likely scenario is that most governments and global platforms/tech firms would find ways to collaborate. Most governments lack the capability to develop platforms on their own and have to rely on global vendors to assist in building, maintaining and updating their platforms. In this context, the evolution of the relationship between governments and platforms bears watching – in terms of how government platforms would respect individual rights and manage commercial opportunities and access, and the terms global tech firms will seek to provide vendor services to governments.

Overall, countries are likely to follow one of these paths. Western countries emphasise on individual privacy rights but this constrains governments from officially expanding its digital presence; thereby allowing private tech firms to continue to dominate the platform space. Government platforms are likely to advance fastest and furthest in China and India where resistance to verification and transparency is low. China already emphasises on digitalisation and control of data and platform services are dominated by its own tech firms rather than by global ones. Nonetheless, China’s government is likely, at some point, to experiment with its own replica of a commercial platform to ensure that it has a back-up to private platforms as well as to ensure it is in a position to shape future directions; possibly for social credit. Similar motives underpin its digital yuan project. India’s Aadhaar, which is focused on universal service delivery, appears to have the greatest potential to evolve into a full-fledged government platform. At the moment, it lacks the profiling, communication and hosting (app) features found on commercial platforms.

Conclusion – Managing data is key in the information society

There is more citizens’ data than ever before. It follows that how we manage citizens to a large extent depends on how we manage their data. But we lack an aspirational vision of a society where citizens are datafied and economies are data-driven. The vision should not be about a smart city that is wired up to facilitate green and sustainable or to facilitate autonomous vehicles. These are “device issues” or commercial issues related to corporate profits. The challenges that do not get sufficient attention relates to the human aspects – the livelihood and welfare of citizens and of democratic ideals[10]. The pressing question to ask is why there isn’t more use of data to solve public goods shortfalls. Is it a problem that public rights to the data are being curtailed or the public good goals of data has been largely ignored. Hence, there is a need to deepen our understanding of the power dynamics of data and to conceptualise the data rights of the people. In the information society, the government of the people is the government of the data.


Adrian Hon (20 September 2022) “How game design principles can enhance democracy”. Noema Magazine.

Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (June 2022) “Paving a digital road to hell? A primer on the role of the World Bank and global networks in promoting digital ID”. NYU School of Law.

David Dorman (28 March 2022) “China’s plan for digital dominance”. War on the Rocks.

Dylan Levi King (18 November 2021) “The second death of Jiao Yulu”. Palladium Magazine.

David Dorman, John Hemmings (11 May 2022) “China’s digital challenge: Hidden in plain sight, bigger than you thought, and much harder to solve”. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

David Dorman, John Hemmings (February 2023) “Digital China: The strategy and its geopolitical implications”. Pacific Forum.

Martens Bertin, Duch Brown Nestor (2020) “The economics of Business-to-Government data sharing,” JRC Working Papers on Digital Economy, Joint Research Centre.

Phuah Eng Chye (2015) Policy paradigms for the anorexic and financialised economy: Managing the transition to an information society.

Phuah Eng Chye (25 April 2020) “Public and private roles in managing data (Part 1: Surveillance)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (9 May 2020) Public and private roles in managing data (Part 2: Data sharing)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (23 May 2020) “Public and private roles in managing data (Part 3: Evolving roles)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (6 June 2020) “Government of the data (Part 1: From census to digital IDs)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (20 June 2020) “Government of the data (Part 2: India’s Aadhaar and the debate on digital IDs)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (4 July 2020) “Government of the data (Part 3: The future of government platforms)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (15 August 2020) “Economics of data (Part 3: Relationship between data and value and the monetisation framework)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (10 October 2020) “Hayek: The coordination problem, prices and information”.

Phuah Eng Chye (24 October 2020) “Hayek: Economic models in the context of a pandemic and the information society”.

Phuah Eng Chye (8 April 2023) “China’s model (Part 2: Digital China and the information society)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (27 May 2023) “Transition to the information society (Part 1: Disruption of households and work)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (8 July 2023) “Transition to the information society (Part 2: Disruptive effects of transparency)”.

Phuah Eng Chye (19 August 2023) “Transition to the information society (Part 3: Disruption of content, narratives and the implications for democracy)”.

Stephen Larrick (19 May 2022) “Towards urban data commons? On the origins and significance of platform data sharing mandates”. Belfer Center.

Susan Ariel Aaronson (9 June 2022) “A future built on data: Data strategies, competitive advantage and trust”. Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

The Emissary (18 January 2021) “India Stack: The art of digital alchemy”.

[1] See “Government of the data (Part 2: India’s Aadhaar and the debate on digital IDs)”.

[2] “Hayek: The coordination problem, prices and information”; “Hayek: Economic models in the context of a pandemic and the information society”.

[3] See “Public and private roles in managing data (Part 3: Evolving roles)”.

[4] See “Economics of data (Part 3: Relationship between data and value and the monetisation framework)”.

[5] Stephen Larrick explores policy issues on the sharing of platform data with government and municipal agencies. Martens Bertin and Duch Brown Nestor review issues of B2G data sharing.

[6] See “China’s model (Part 2: Digital China and the information society)”.

[7] See “China’s model (Part 2: Digital China and the information society)”.

[8] Susan Ariel Aaronson reviews data strategies in several countries.

[9] See “Government of the Data (Part 3: The future of government platforms)”.

[10] See Adrian Hon on the use of gamification to strengthen participation and democracies.