PASQUINELLI: Google’s PageRank Algorithm: A Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the Common Intellect

The origin of Google’s power and monopoly is to be traced to the invisible algorithm PageRank. The diagram of this technology is proposed here as the most fitting description of the value machine at the core of what is diversely called knowledge economy, attention economy or cognitive capitalism. This essay stresses the need of a political economy of the PageRank algorithm rather than expanding the dominant critique of Google’s monopoly based on the Panopticon model and similar ‘Big Brother’ issues (dataveillance, privacy, political censorship). First and foremost Google’s power is understood from the perspective of value production (in different forms: attention value, cognitive value, network value, etc.): the biopolitical consequences of its data monopoly come logically later.

This essay advances three main arguments in relation to the ‘Google economy’ by focusing respectively: value production, value accumulation and value re-appropriation. First, Google’s Page Rank is introduced as the best implementation of the diagram of cognitive capitalism. This cognitive and economic diagram actually reverses the Panopticon diagram of Foucauldian lineage: it is not simply an apparatus of surveillance or control, but a machine to capture living time and living labour and to transform the common intellect into network value. Dataveillance is then made possible only thanks to a monopoly of data that are previously accumulated through the PageRank algorithm. Second, this model of cognitive hegemony needs a new theory of cognitive rent to be understood, as it is based on the exploitation of a new mediascape for the collective intelligence that is only apparently free and open. Google is defined as a parasite of the digital datascape as, on one hand, it provides benevolent free services but, on the other hand, it accumulates value through a pervasive platform of web advertisement (Adsense and Adwords). More importantly, Google establishes its own proprietary hierarchy of value for each node of the internet and becomes then the first systematic global rentier of the common intellect. Third, a political response can be conceptualised and organised only by reversing the chain of value production (blatantly: ‘Reclaiming your page rank’) instead of indulging in a nominal resistance to the ‘digital Panopticon’.