In the name of Development: power, profit and the datafication of the global South
There is currently a ‘datafication’ process underway in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) which is shifting power in the field of international development away from traditional actors such as aid donors and toward multinational corporations. The use of new communications and database technologies in LMICs is generating ‘big data’ (for example from the use of mobile phones, mobile-based financial services and the internet) which is collected and processed by corporations. When shared, these data are also becoming a potentially valuable resource for development research and policy. With these new sources of data, new power structures are emerging within the field of development. I will identify two trends in particular, illustrating them with examples: first, the empowerment of public-private partnerships around datafication in LMICs and the consequently growing agency of corporations as development actors. Second, the way commercially generated big data is becoming the foundation for country-level ‘data doubles’, i.e. digital representations of social phenomena and/or territories that are created in parallel with, and sometimes in lieu of, national data and statistics. I will outline the potential risks and repercussions of these shifts in power relations between donor countries, LMIC governments and corporate actors.
Linnet Taylor is a Marie Curie research fellow in the University of Amsterdam’s International Development faculty, with the Governance and Inclusive Development group. Her research focuses on the use of new types of digital data in research and policymaking around issues of development, urban planning and mobility. Previously she was a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute on the project ‘Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge’. Linnet studied a DPhil in International Development at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex where she was also part of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research. Her doctoral research focused on the adoption of the internet in West Africa. Before her doctoral work she was a researcher at the Rockefeller Foundation where she developed programmes around economic security and human mobility.