The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

(Quick review of this must read new book by By Professor Shoshana Zuboff)

You are living through a new type of capitalism – Surveillance Capitalism- that changes the rules of the game, needs to be understood in its own terms and controlled before it controls us.

Our “Data signals” (from services we choose to use like Google search, Google Maps and Facebook) will be just the tip of the iceberg. Surveillance Capitalists (SCs) will hoover up growing volumes of data from multiple sources: automated data embedded in the environment  and  things we own  like cars, home energy systems, mobiles devices and much more.

SCs will be powered by a confluence of technologies – cheaper and increased data storage, faster computer processing, ultra- fast 5 g networks (to link all those data signals from things together) and AI. If this seems alarmist, just think how fast the likes of Google, Facebook and WeChat have grown from being scrappy start-ups to corporate behemoths.

How to spot Surveillance Capitalists (SCs)

SCs “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data which …are fabricated into prediction products that anticipates what you will do now, soon or later”

SCs revive “Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labour, but with an unexpected turn, Instead of labour SCs feed on every aspect of human experience”

SCs are protected by “the inherent illegibility of the automated processes that they rule, the ignorance that they breed and the sense of inevitability that they foster “

SCs services do not “establish constructive producer consumer reciprocities. Instead they are ‘hooks’ that lure users into their extractive relations in which our personal experiences are scraped and packaged as the means to others ends”

SC’s know “everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. The accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us. They predict our futures for the sake of others gain, not ours.”

Which is quite a charge sheet. Add to this that SC’s pay as little tax as possible, whilst presenting themselves as brands that seek to “do well by doing good “(wearing a mask of Californian hippy idealism) and you have a toxic mix. Plus, recent PR has been terrible.

Zuboff’s book is the best so far about the real agenda of Big Tech. It provides an intellectual framework to develop well thought through regulation and is a call to arms to do so urgently.

also reviewed in The Guardian here

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