Digital slavery, time for abolition?

Mick Chisnall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Slavery is a powerful and emotive term describing an abhorrent infringement of fundamental human rights and should not be applied casually. I relate the practice of slavery to two different concepts of "alienation from self": first, as being "owned" as property by a third party; and, second, as being "owned" in a more informal, contemporary sense, through the removal of an individual's ability to govern her own life. This dual meaning of alienation from self leads me to consider self-ownership in a legal sense as well as, less formally, as having the agency to determine one's own life. From both perspectives I claim that the increasing trafficking of personal data to supply algorithm-based analytics and AI is enabling a new form of digital enslavement that has the potential to curtail liberty and cause harm. I suggest that the conceptualization of problematic digital practices as a new form of slavery is a much needed addition to the mainstream critique of the collection, aggregation and trafficking of personal data, which has focused mostly on individual privacy. This focus, in turn, has obscured and diminished the seriousness of concerns about collective and individual autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-506
Number of pages19
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2020


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