Platform Capitalism

Platform capitalism refers to the activities of companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Uber, Airbnb, and others to operate as platforms. All around us, it seems that a nebulous series of entities called ‘platforms’ are increasingly shaping our world. In this business model, both hardware and software are used as a foundation (platform) for other actors to conduct their own business. Google, originally a search engine company, is now competing with Facebook, a social networking site when it began, and they are all competing with Amazon, which was once only an e-commerce company.

The platform business model is predicated upon a voracious appetite for data that can only be sated by a disregard for privacy and constant outward expansion. Platform Capitalism aims to undermine the self-aggrandizing narratives of Silicon Valley, casting a critical eye onto the landscape of the leading capitalist firms.

Platform Capitalism is a high definition snapshot of the current political-economic situation that manages to get a lot of detail into a tight frame. It is either heralded as beneficial or denounced as detrimental by various authors. The trends identified in platform capitalism have similarities with those described under the heading of surveillance capitalism. It offers a convincing image of the current stage of capitalist development as a series of variations on the theme of the platform as a means of consolidating or seizing a kind of monopoly leverage over not only distribution but also production.

What unites Google and Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, Siemens and GE, Uber and Airbnb? Across a wide range of sectors, these firms are transforming themselves into platforms: businesses that provide the hardware and software foundation for others to operate on.  Online commerce forms another friction point, with Facebook aiming to bring more and more business transactions onto its platform, in more or less direct threats to Google and Amazon. This transformation signals a major shift in how capitalist firms operate and how they interact with the rest of the economy: the emergence of platform capitalism.

Platform capitalism has been contrasted with platform cooperativism. Platforms’ appetite for data means that these businesses are also constantly expanding. Companies that try to focus on fairness and sharing, instead of a just profit motive, are described as cooperatives, whereas more traditional and common companies that focus solely on profit, like Airbnb and Uber, are platform capitalists (or cooperative platforms vs capitalist platforms). Not only does this lead to privacy concerns, but it also means that these forms grow and expand according to a data-centric logic of capitalist centralization.

 

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