Democratic data governance schemes consider the relational nature of data: information about one individual is useful (or harmful) precisely because it can be used to infer features about—and thus make decisions affecting—others.
Dignitarian critiques thus suffer from being simultaneously overly narrow and overly broad. By focusing on datafication’s violation of self, they do not address the economic imperatives that drive such harm nor do they provide a compelling agenda for addressing inequality in the data political economy. At the same time, the focus on datafication paints over meaningful distinctions regarding the purposes of data production and the conditions under which such purposes are determined.
Both the propertarian and dignitarian conceptions of data governance improve upon the status quo of data governance. But each is out of step with how data production, as a population-wide practice, results in both benefits and risks for individuals, and their approach—grounded in legal rights to individual freedom—consequently fails to resolve the most urgent questions around data governance. Propertarians rightly identify that data is a social relation—one that is deeply unequal, and thus one that must be reformed. But in an effort to address that inequality, they end up casting data relations as relations of private property or wages that are themselves exploitative. Dignitarians rightly diagnose current forms of data production as extractive. But in an effort to address this extraction, end up foreclosing the forms of data production that may be vital to achieving robust social welfare provision, while failing to consider the political economic conditions required for individuals to meaningfully exercise the freedoms they do grant.