Business and Society 58 (1):20-41 (2019)

This article provides a history of private sector tracking technologies, examining how the advent of commercial surveillance centered around a logic of data capitalism. Data capitalism is a system in which the commoditization of our data enables an asymmetric redistribution of power that is weighted toward the actors who have access and the capability to make sense of information. It is enacted through capitalism and justified by the association of networked technologies with the political and social benefits of online community, drawing upon narratives that foreground the social and political benefits of networked technologies. I examine its origins in the wake of the dotcom bubble, when technology makers sought to develop a new business model to support online commerce. By leveraging user data for advertising purposes, they contributed to an information environment in which every action leaves behind traces collected by companies for commercial purposes. Through analysis of primary source materials produced by technology makers, journalists, and business analysts, I examine the emergence of data capitalism between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and its central role in the contemporary information economy.
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DOI 10.1177/0007650317718185
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