Section Three - Surveillance Capitalism
A story about us not being the product, but something far worse (14 minutes)
In section two we talked about (technology) companies grabbing our attention. To be effective at this they need data. To get data they need to watch us. That is why these companies, like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are often called surveillance capitalists.
According to Soshana Zuboff, who coined the term, surveillance capitalism is threatening our human values, because these companies do not only want to predict our behaviour but also shape and determine our behaviour. In this way, technology is threatening our ability to make our own choices.
There is - as always - a lot of criticism on the work of Zuboff. We invite you to read up on the criticism, but her work is still very important. However, her book (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) is also incredibly thick and hard to read. That is a shame because the book has an important message.
That is why we made a summary. Please take your time and read this 9 minute summary (PDF) of the Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Soshana Zuboff. If you do not like to read, you can also check the videolink we posted in section six.
Quick question: So if the product is free and you are NOT the product, what are you?
After you have read the summary, please watch this video by Jaron Lanier who offers a solution (4 minutes).
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is all about our autonomy.
Zuboff writes: "This is just the beginning. The best way to sell certainty is not to predict behaviour, but to influence and determine behaviour. To use data to manipulate people and sell that "superpower" to companies and organizations. That is the ultimate purpose of surveillance capitalism. From predicting to determining.
Surveillance capitalists do not automate for us, but want to automate us.
It is clear that being automated is not good for your autonomy. Especially when you do not realize that choices are being made for you.
It is complicated to explain the relationship between happiness and the surveillance capitalists. Surveillance capitalists threaten our democracy, our ability to make independent choices. That does not sound well. At the same time there are dystopian books (like A Perfect Day from Ira Levin) in which people don't make choices and there is no democracy, but everyone is happy.
Or will we soon no longer know what being happy really means?
In the short term, the surveillance capitalist needs data and in order to get that data, as we saw in section two, it is effective to capitalize on people's fear and uncertainty. That certainly does not contribute to our happiness.
Take aways from section three:
- Surveillance capitalism is real and aims to manipulate our behavior;
- This is mostly still something in the future, but a threat to our human values;
- Already gathering data means taking advantage of our insecurity and anxiety;
- A deep understanding of this phenomena helps to assess technology.