Abstract: Recalling the well-known strategy of “following the money” when investigating the underlying power structures and business models of legacy media, this article argues that studies of digital political economies can benefit instead from following the data. Combining perspectives from critical data studies and infrastructure research, we first discuss how direct money flows can be difficult to trace in digital ecosystems, creating a need for alternative analytical approaches for studying and scrutinising contemporary power configurations in digital societies. As a theoretical backdrop, we elaborate on the concept of infrastructural power and apply it in a walkthrough of critical data infrastructures. To illustrate the efficacy of this strategy, we provide perspectives and examples from the political economies of internet infrastructures in Northern Europe and discuss how control over data is translated into economic profit and societal power. In doing so, we argue that increased attention to data infrastructures is needed to advance both critical data and infrastructure studies, improve digital market monitoring, and ground future regulation and policy.
Keywords: critical data studies; data economy; infrastructural power; internet infrastructures; political economy