Note — Jan 27, 2019

Welcome to the Age of Surveillance Capitalism

An excellent interview with Shoshana Zuboff about her new book on surveillance capitalism. Most of the actual ideas have already been covered here in one way or another, including some articles by Zuboff. Very much worth a read though, some of the phrasing and ways of presenting her ideas are super useful in understanding the general thesis and where we are right now. Some notes:

  • The watchers and the watched, and “the division of learning in society.”
  • They (Google, then others) appropriated our “data exhaust,” it wasn’t really there’s to take. (Reminds me of some of the “rights” companies appropriate over-reaching through copyright.)
  • It didn’t have to be this way, the same technologies could have been used in other ways.
  • The use of GAFA, GAFAM, and FANGS is starting to be problematic for me, as not all companies in those acronyms are surveillance capitalists.
  • Her use of “‘informate,’ which I use to mean to translate things, processes, behaviours, and so forth into information.”

[F]rom the making of products, to mass production, to managerial capitalism, to services, to financial capitalism, and now to the exploitation of behavioural predictions covertly derived from the surveillance of users. […]

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. […]

Sheryl Sandberg, says Zuboff, played the role of Typhoid Mary, bringing surveillance capitalism from Google to Facebook.

It has spread across a wide range of products, services, and economic sectors, including insurance, retail, healthcare, finance, entertainment, education, transportation, and more, birthing whole new ecosystems of suppliers, producers, customers, market-makers, and market players. 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. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free. […]

This duality set information technology apart from earlier generations of technology: information technology produces new knowledge territories by virtue of its informating capability, always turning the world into information. The result is that these new knowledge territories become the subject of political conflict. […]

So our participation is best explained in terms of necessity, dependency, the foreclosure of alternatives, and enforced ignorance. […]

Users might get “ownership” of the data that they give to surveillance capitalists in the first place, but they will not get ownership of the surplus or the predictions gleaned from it – not without new legal concepts built on an understanding of these operations.