When digital health meets digital capitalism, how many common goods are at stake?

Tamar Sharon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In recent years, all major consumer technology corporations have moved into the domain of health research. This 'Googlization of health research' ('GHR') begs the question of how the common good will be served in this research. As critical data scholars contend, such phenomena must be situated within the political economy of digital capitalism in order to foreground the question of public interest and the common good. Here, trends like GHR are framed within a double, incommensurable logic, where private gain and economic value are pitted against public good and societal value. While helpful for highlighting the exploitative potential of digital capitalism, this framing is limiting, insofar as it acknowledges only one conception of the common good. This article uses the analytical framework of modes of justification developed by Boltanksi and Thevenot to identify a plurality of orders of worth and conceptualizations of the common good at work in GHR. Not just the 'civic' (doing good for society) and 'market' (enhancing wealth creation) orders, but also an 'industrial' (increasing efficiency), a 'project' (innovation and experimentation), and what I call a 'vitalist' (proliferating life) order. Using promotional material of GHR initiatives and preliminary interviews with participants in GHR projects, I ask what moral orientations guide different actors in GHR. Engaging seriously with these different conceptions of the common good is paramount. First, in order to critically evaluate them and explicate what is at stake in the move towards GHR, and ultimately, in order to develop viable governance solutions that ensure strong 'civic' components.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2053951718819032
Number of pages12
JournalBig Data & Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Digital health
  • digital capitalism
  • Googlization of health research
  • moral repertoires
  • common good
  • public values


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