What is ‘surveillance capitalism’? Your future behaviour is the product
Shoshana Zuboff’s book is essential reading for anyone who has a smartphone or uses the internet. So, pretty much everyone should read this. When the product is free, then you are the product. This truism is taken to a new level by surveillance capitalism. Now, your predictable future behaviour is the product.
The key architect of surveillance capitalism is Google
Google began as a moderately successful search business. Only when Google began selling targeted ads in the early 2000s, did the cha-ching begin. Google’s value keeps rising (now part of holding company, Alphabet) in tandem with the amount of data it gathers. Google is now the world’s second most valuable brand, after Apple. And Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook round out the top 5. This is startling.
Google, Facebook and Microsoft: the most dangerous surveillance capitalists, and the art of dispossession
Google perfected the art of dispossession, as it learned to counter public resistance to its accumulation of behavioural surplus. You can see its approach in action by the three dangerous surveillance capitalists. First comes incursion, for example, gathering information from unprotected wifi routers while scanning streets. Stage two is habituation. Wait them out. Step on them if necessary. Next is adaptation: “We’ve listened to you, and changed our privacy controls.” Yeah, right. Finally, redirection is used to reposition the activity which has drawn negative attention.
Google is all about having as many data points as possible on each user, from across its products, from Search to Gmail to Android phones, so that it can literally predict the user’s behaviour. And not just online: Pokemon Go! is not a Nintendo product, it’s a (successful) Google experiment in herding users around the real world.
Facebook uses the same approach as Google. It monitors every single like, comment and share on its platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram) but it has expanded much further by allowing logins to different sites using Facebook credentials, and letting anyone add a Facebook ‘Like’ widget to any site.
Microsoft not only has extensive user data on all of its up to 1 billion Windows PC users, it also bought LinkedIn and is now in line to snap up TikTok. More data points means more behavioural surplus. Remember that Cambridge Analytica illegally used many hundreds of data points on millions of Facebook users to build compelling advertising campaigns that gave us Trump and Brexit. It works.
Significant to note that the number one brand, Apple, doesn’t just design better products, putting user experience at the heart of all the company does, but Apple does not share your data. It uses your behavioural data to sell you more Apple products and services, certainly. That’s fair enough. But it does not sell your predictable future to unknown third parties. The company is serious about protecting customers’ privacy and data rights.
How to survive the age of surveillance capitalism
The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the massive shift to digital that really kicked off with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Look at how we’ve changed in the past few months! Online shopping, digital entertainment, contactless payment and video communications have taken over our lives. The big tech companies are delighted. Their imagined utopia has been realised more quickly than they would have hoped. I call it tech dystopia. I call it Hell.
Here are some things you can do, to take back your future:
- Read the book!
- Learn more about surveillance capitalism and the companies that profit from your behaviour. Share this post. Start conversations.
- Ask yourself: Is the surveillance capitalists’ dystopia the future that I really want?
- Don’t use an Android phone. iPhone is a smarter choice.
- Do you really need to use so many services, and so often, from Google, Facebook and Microsoft? Limiting your use of these companies’ services hurts their business model. If each of us logs on less frequently, their ability to predict our behaviour is reduced. Stop using Microsoft Windows computers. They share all your activity with Microsoft, using the bandwidth you pay for. If you can’t afford a Mac, try a Linux computer.
- Search sites like DuckDuckGo are worth a look. They don’t follow you around the web, trying to sell you stuff that you’ve searched for (Google’s core business model).
- Do you really need to make Jeff Bezos even richer? Do you really need that piece of plastic tat from China tomorrow? No and no. Buy from our sustainable living store instead. You’ll help stop climate change, which will help you sleep better at night, and Jeff Bezos will continue to not know or care that you exist, while he WhatsApps the Saudis.
- Do you really need an Amazon spy in your home, listening in on everything that you say or do? You don’t. “Alexa, go fuck yourself.”
- Support initiatives like the EU’s GDPR/cookie notices, which are about exposing the surveillance capitalists as they mine your data and watch your every move online.
- Prevent Facebook from taking your activity data from other apps. Learn how here: https://www.facebook.com/off-facebook-activity (When I checked mine, I saw this: “This is a summary of the 715 apps and websites that have shared your activity.” What?)
Then wake up to how you’re being played. Or, Welcome to Hell.
Check out dystopian fiction, PET, and see where the surveillance capitalism algorithms could take us.
Visit Shoshana Zuboff’s blog: https://shoshanazuboff.com/book/
Congress grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (how did Microsoft escape a grilling?). Here are the big takeaways (July 29, 2020).
Check out our Manifesto for the Human Resistance.
Forbes list of most valuable brands, 2020: https://www.forbes.com/the-worlds-most-valuable-brands/#2995d1eb119c
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