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A Critical Inquiry into How Platforms Communicate About Their Data Practices  

This conceptual paper explores the role of communication around data practices of Big Tech companies. Through exploring and critiquing communication practices, the paper shows how Big Tech platforms shape users into new sorts of data subjects through framing, influencing behaviour, and the black boxing of algorithms. Communication about data will be approached via three perspectives: 1) current communication about data practices contribute to the construction of reductive data identities for users and the colonisation of their daily routines; 2) by strategically deploying the metaphor of the ‘black box’, tech companies try to legitimize their abuses of power in datafication processes; 3) the logic in which communication is mediated through the interfaces of Big Tech platforms is normalizing this subjectification. Critical data literacy depends on transparent communication practices and can foster individual resilience against exploitative data practice. However, current commercial appropriations of data ethics need to be critically assessed against the background of increasing competition in the digital economy. The paper contributes to the theorisation of datafication as a complex communication process that establishes power hierarchies in the making of meaning and construction of datafied identities. Communication is multidimensional, always present, essential but ultimately by itself not a sufficient solution to the ethical challenges of datafication and automation.  

The manuscript for this article is currently under review and we will post a link to the final paper in due course.

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