Surveillance Capitalism: A Mutant Form of Capitalism

I was going to include this article in a news scoop this morning but in reading it I thought it deserved a post of its own.  People should be alarmed.  Unfortunately, most are simply complacent, likely due to not being aware.

‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

The article is about a new book by Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.41nhzmwhbdl._sx320_bo1,204,203,200_

The article indicates capitalism has found a way to use tech for it purposes…

It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behaviour of those users in astonishing detail – often without their explicit consent.

For those who have been paying attention, you have been aware of this for some time.  The twist seems to be that this is the new “mutant” form of capitalism.

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later.

Ah, yes.  Data will be used to predict behavior and capitalized on.

Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

Your data will be collected and used whether or not you give permission. Arrogance? That and more.

First of all there was the arrogant appropriation of users’ behavioural data – viewed as a free resource, there for the taking. Then the use of patented methods to extract or infer data even when users had explicitly denied permission, followed by the use of technologies that were opaque by design and fostered user ignorance.

Undermining our democracy…   Are you a watcher or the watched?  Chances are you a part of the watched.

The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched. This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power.

The article ends with Shoshana Zuboff answering ten questions.  Here are some quotes from her responses.

And it was a Google executive – Sheryl Sandberg – who played the role of Typhoid Mary, bringing surveillance capitalism from Google to Facebook, when she signed on as Mark Zuckerberg’s number two in 2008.

Nearly every product or service that begins with the word “smart” or “personalised”, every internet-enabled device, every “digital assistant”, is simply a supply-chain interface for the unobstructed flow of behavioural data on its way to predicting our futures in a surveillance economy.

Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us.

The two paragraphs below deserve their own section.

It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination. As one data scientist explained to me, “We can engineer the context around a particular behaviour and force change that way… We are learning how to write the music, and then we let the music make them dance.”

This power to shape behaviour for others’ profit or power is entirely self-authorising. It has no foundation in democratic or moral legitimacy, as it usurps decision rights and erodes the processes of individual autonomy that are essential to the function of a democratic society. The message here is simple: Once I was mine. Now I am theirs.

Moe quotes from her responses.

Finally, surveillance capitalism depends upon undermining individual self-determination, autonomy and decision rights for the sake of an unobstructed flow of behavioural data to feed markets that are about us but not for us.

This antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian juggernaut is best described as a market-driven coup from above: an overthrow of the people concealed as the technological Trojan horse of digital technology.

Technology is the puppet, but surveillance capitalism is the puppet master.

Shoshana Zuboff’s book has just been published.  This article is the first I have heard of it.  I look forward to getting my hands on this book and reading it.

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2 Responses to Surveillance Capitalism: A Mutant Form of Capitalism

  1. Pingback: The Data Scoop for the Day | The Underground Parent

  2. Pingback: Education News Scoop Jan.30, 2019 | The Underground Parent

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