A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality
In this article, I argue that the debate about the irrational consequences of rationality, discussed within the tradition of the Frankfurt School, and applied to technology and machinery in the concept of technological rationality (Marcuse 1941; 1960; 2007/1964; 2009/1965), can help us better understand and criticise contemporary algorithmic capitalism. In particular, the dialectical relation between technics and technology proposed by Marcuse (1941) can help us better understand the contexts of building digital technologies as tools for control and dominance. I analyse Alphabet Inc.’s (Google) documents, such as the Securities and Exchange Filing (SEC) Form 10-Ks in the period between 2004 and 2016, as well as Search Quality Rating Guidelines (SQRG) between 2016 and 2017. Based on recorded corporate growth, I argue that the company developed on the foundation of three interconnected technological rationalities: organisational rationality of flexible management values and labour utilisation; informational rationality of generating value from advertising and audience labour; and rationality of surplus value accumulation based on reification of labour and consciousness. The company produces two main types of commodities: audience commodity and algorithmic commodity, each solidifying the company’s control and dominance over Internet usage habits.
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