Platform enclosure of human behavior and its measurement: Using behavioral trace data against platform episteme

Angela Xiao Wu, Harsh Taneja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Digital trace data from giant platforms are gaining ground in the study of human behavior. This trend accompanies contestations regarding representativeness, privacy, access, and commercial origin. Complementing existing discussions and focusing on knowledge production, we draw attention to the different measurement regimes within passively captured behavioral logs from industries. Taking an institutional perspective on measurement as a management technology, we compare platforms with third-party audience measurement firms. Whereas the latter measure to provide “currency” for a multi-sided advertising market, the former measure internally for their own administrative purposes (i.e. prescribing behavior through design). We demonstrate the platform giants’ two-fold enclosure of first the user ecology and subsequently the previously open market for user attention. With platform trace data serving as a lifeline for scholarly research, platform episteme extends itself to enclose knowledge production. We conclude by suggesting ways in which academic quantitative social sciences may resist these platform enclosures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2650-2667
Number of pages18
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Audience measurement
  • Internet studies
  • computational social science
  • digital trace data
  • knowledge production
  • platform episteme
  • quantitative methodology
  • user analytics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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