What Is Surveillance Capitalism?



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What Is Surveillance Capitalism?

I’m sorry, the markets are NOT always right!

Image from Pixabay.com

So the other day, I was having a somewhat politically incorrect conversation with my fiancé. I won’t go into the details. At one point, I slightly rebuked her by saying, “Honey, you know, Mark Zuckerburg could be listening to us as we speak!”

She laughed.

Alexa laughed.

Siri laughed.

Yeah, we’ve grown quite comfortable with Big Brother in our household. He’s literally the elephant in the room.

In line with that, I wanted to talk today a little bit about what’s been called Surveillance Capitalism.

The elephant in the room

Lately, I’ve been commenting a lot on artificial intelligence. And through one particularly insightful book, entitled 2084 by John Lennox, I’ve learned of another work written by Professor Zuboff from Harvard. She says that we are now moving into a new economic order. And it bears the same name as the subject of this blog.

I’ve more or less detailed this in other works referring to artificial intelligence that is programmed into Amazon, Alphabet (which owns Google and YouTube), Facebook, Twitter, well…virtually all social media platforms to some extent or another, and the Chinese online marketplaces of Alibaba and Baidu.

Some of us are aware of just how invasively these platforms mine your data, and in the words of Professor Zuboff, “exploit it as raw material for the purpose of making money in ways that are less than obvious to most people.”

When this kind of power is combined with another concept that will be discussed in a future article called Surveillance Communism, it may spell the perfect storm for a society that is not only wholly propagandized, but totally contolled and manipulated into lining the pockets of a few billionaires and bureaucrats. It seems almost unavoidable at this point.

Market Fundamentalism

Look, I’m not against Capitalism. It is a wonderful thing in certain directions. And, of course, I’m concerned, like most folks here in the West, about the means of production being completely regulated by the government. But the corporatization of our society, and especially our foreign affairs should give us all reason to just stop and think about the direction we are headed – especially with the ceaseless integration of artificial intelligence.

You may be a gospeler of capitalism like many in democratic lands. But corporatism, specifically enhanced with artificial intelligence, is hardly a virtuous thing simply because it’s built on a capitalist substratum.

It’s unfortunate here in the west that instead of seeing capitalism for what it is, we, as a society, subscribe to a kind of fundamentalism (almost messianic in its religiosity), that ‘the market is always right!’

There’s this corporate libertarianism that is so prevalent we hardly even notice it anymore! We think that just because advertising is really the benchmark and modus operandi of open markets, virtually any digital harassment or infringement of our privacy that’s foisted upon us can be dismissed as the market just ‘doing its thing.’

If you don’t like it, you best live elsewhere. And ‘elsewhere’ is just another word for some brand of socialism or Marxism – because there’s really no in-between. Unless you worship free markets – that is to say, unless you kowtow to this utopian image of laissez faire and the unmolested will of fitful economics – you couldn’t possibly be a very democratic or enlightened individual.

So, if the form that happens to take is a smart phone replete with apps that measure every last nuance of your personal taste and habits, who is always at your beckoning call, “Hey Siri”…oh well! That’s a price we all best be prepared to pay. ‘Cause markets are never wrong!

Try living without it!

Listen, when it comes to technology, I’m just as guilty as anyone. I’m not about to go back to horse and buggy. I’m wearing a smartwatch as we speak, and have numerous devices around the home equipped with digital assistants like Siri, and all the rest of it.

I want to share a few words originally penned by Libby Purves in The Times of July 29, 2019 on the prevalence of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. She writes that this “novelty blurs the oddity of paying to live with a vigilant inhuman spy linked to an all-too-human corporate profit centre thousands of miles away…To welcome an ill-regulated corporate eavesdropper into your house is a dumb, reckless bit of self-bugging.”

I would be a complete hypocrite to offer any solutions to this issue, either personally or at the societal level, because I know that I’m bugged from head to toe. I suppose I could suggest, such as I have in other pieces, to inform yourself about the privacy features on these devices if you must live with them; and be vigilant while installing the updates by reading the sub-text of their (seemingly) innocuous, incessant petitioning of various apps to grant access to your sensitive information.

“To welcome an ill-regulated corporate eavesdropper into your house is a dumb, reckless bit of self-bugging.” – Libby Purves

But even that only goes so far! Again, I believe this topic will make a hypocrite out of anyone. Please tell me what you do to protect your privacy in the remarks below.

And besides that, I did find that just having a name for this phenomenon, Surveillance Capitalism, is valuable for spreading awareness.

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