"The Noxious Datafication of the Housing Market" by Alexandre Petitclerc and David Eliot (2022 Scholars)

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation would like to share this excellent article from 2022 Scholars, Alexandre Petitclerc and David Eliot, titled “The Noxious Datafication of the Housing Market”,  published on Tech Policy Press. In their article, they explore how datafication has transformed the housing market in Canada and the United States into a noxious market, a concept introduced by philosopher Debra Satz to describe markets that are morally concerning or harmful. These markets are characterized by several factors: weak agency, harm to individuals and to society, and vulnerability. They argue that the increased surveillance and recording of housing data, while potentially beneficial, has primarily been used for economic profit, exacerbating issues like inequality, homelessness, and difficult access to homeownership.

“In the case of housing, the noxiousness of the market is symptomatic of increased inequality in the power dynamic between tenants and landlords, difficult access to homeownership for first-buyers, high levels of homelessness, and lack of supply. […] there has been minimal attention paid to a socio-technical development that has created many of the conditions that have exacerbated the negative effects of the housing markets: datafication.”

Datafication has enabled the financialization of housing, turning homes into financial assets rather than places of shelter. This shift is facilitated by algorithms and the availability of housing data, leading to the platformization of the housing market. Companies like Opendoor use algorithms to buy and flip homes for profit, further treating housing as a financial asset.

Petitclerc and Eliot call for more robust algorithmic regulation and targeted data policies to address the unique harms caused by datafication. They emphasize the need for solutions that focus on the underlying causes of the housing crisis, such as wealth concentration and rent-seeking, rather than broad data protection policies.

This publication is part of a symposium on the promise and perils of human rights for governing digital platforms. To read more from the series, visit the symposium’s page.

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Alexandre Petitclerc

  • Scholar 2022
Alexandre Petitclerc is currently a PhD candidate at the philosophy department of the Université de Montréal.
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David Eliot

  • Scholar 2022
David Eliot (he/him) is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) researcher, athlete, activist, and entrepreneur from Kingston Ontario.