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Toy figures of tiny people stand in front of the Netflix logo.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
If digital data is a form of unpaid labor, can subscribers unionize and go on strike?
THE REVOLUTION, TELEVISED

Is it time for Netflix subscribers to go on strike?

Nicolás Rivero
Member exclusive by Nicolás Rivero

Two Northwestern University researchers have a plan to torpedo Netflix’s recommendation algorithm. They just need 30% of Netflix users—that’s about 55 million subscribers—to band together and delete their data.

This isn’t an elaborate academic troll. The researchers call this form of collective action a “data strike,” and say it might help average internet users gain some leverage against major tech companies. While they used Netflix as an example, the tactic could also work against other giants like Facebook, Google, or Amazon.

The idea underpinning the computer scientists’ proposal is that consumers’ digital data is a form of unpaid labor. Every time you use the internet, tech companies track and record your behavior—what you watch, buy, read, and “like.” They use that information as training data to fine-tune the powerful algorithms their businesses depend on.

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