Ever wondered why Gmail lets us use it for free? Why web browsing and funny cat videos on YouTube can be viewed without a fee? Well, sit back and relax because we are going to delve deeply into these questions today. 


What is Surveillance Capitalism?

We are living in an age of Surveillance Capitalism. According to Wikipedia, Surveillance Capitalism is a new term addressing the process of commodifying personal data with the core purpose of profit-making. It is the idea of making our personal data profitable. In 2014, Vincent Mosco, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Queen’s University coined the term.

We saw a totalitarian society represented by the famous slogan in the film 1984, “Big Brother is watching”. This gets replaced by “The Big Corporations are watching. Shoshana Zuboff states that “analyzing massive data sets begin as a way to reduce uncertainty by discovering the probabilities of future patterns in the behavior of people and systems.”

When an individual’s data is collected and processed, this might impose significant changes in his/her privacy, lifestyle, income, employment opportunities, and in the near future his/her insurance. A time will come when Black Mirror’s social credit scoring system gets imposed not only in China but worldwide. 


How Surveillance Capitalism shapes daily life?

Surveillance Capitalism gets the work done by us. After waking up, most of us pick up our smartphones and scroll through the newsfeed in social media. The steps we take are recorded on our phone, the websites we browse, the conversations we have on our phone/messenger, the reminder we set on our mobile calendar, our YouTube viewing history, our online orders, and purchases all set our personal data. This in turn assists the corporations for targeted advertising.


Have you ever observed talking about bicycles with your friends and then watching ads about Trek or Scott bicycles? Well, think, no more. You have just been targeted for a bicycle ad campaign. As a writer from The Guardian puts it, we do the searching and are searched in turn. When our medical data regarding heartbeats, exercise, and step intake are monitored by phones, we might see a future where insurance companies might not give insurance to an individual on the basis of his obese or reluctant lifestyle.


How Surveillance Capitalism works?

Surveillance Capitalism works with data and information over the internet. The data gathered from a single individual seems insignificant. When these data are gathered in massive amounts from many individuals, it turns profitable. Because these data reduces the uncertainty of behavior patterns and tastes of individuals. If enough data is fed about an individual, algorithms can make precise decisions about our personality, choices, and dogmas. These algorithms can then make an idea about which subject shall we study, which job we shall apply for as well as which neighborhood we shall live in more comfortably. Companies are using ‘predictive analysis’. If you think this is a far dystopian future, then you might be wrong.

A Netflix user chooses a series as something he/she likes. He/she then observes the recommendation algorithm telling him what he’ll watch next. These categories are included in ‘Top Picks’ or More like this series. The more series and movies are watched, the better the Netflix algorithm gets in recommending. Netflix also keeps track of what a user played and searched for. In addition, time and device are also recorded. Big data, Statistical models, and Heuristic Models are used for processing and analyzing the data sets.


Why Surveillance Capitalism might be a problem?

A few days ago, Zoom’s data was hacked. With the implication of social distancing measures and lockdowns for COVID-19, Zoom’s popularity and user base increased rapidly. The company’s CEO Eric Yuan made a fortune of $4 Billion within 3 months. This is quite impressive.

However, the data hack of Zoom Inc. came into the spotlight. Over 500,000 Zoom accounts were hacked and sold on the dark web. Zoom credentials which included an email address, passwords, meeting URLs, and host-keys were sold for money. This gives us an insight into how information is getting more valuable. Surveillance Capitalism is really threatening for human privacy.

Corporations who have more information are richer in return. Whenever we use Chrome, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube, we see a long list of Terms of Service. Let’s take a look at Facebook’s data collection policy –

  • We collect information about the people, Pages, accounts, hashtags, and groups you are connected to and how you interact with them across our Products, such as people you communicate with the most or groups you are part of. We also collect contact information if you choose to upload, sync or import it from a device
  • We collect information about how you use our Products, such as the types of content you view or engage with; the features you use; the actions you take; the people or accounts you interact with; and the time, frequency and duration of your activities.

This helps Facebook to make a detailed profile of its users.

It is true that predictive analysis has helped products and services to be more easily reachable and to the right customer. However, when this monitoring of data, shapes our behavior, democratic institutions face a threat. The human agenda and privacy become suffocated. The corporations know everything about us but we know very little of them. This might contribute to a growing rate of social inequality and institutional injustice.

We have seen what happened in the 2016 US election. Thousands of social media accounts were created in order to harm Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Misinformation and ill-represented articles were promoted on social media. This also influenced the result of the elections as well.

People nowadays trust Google maps rather than their own instincts. As a result, they become perplexed to navigate to their destination using their own knowledge.

Human beings face the challenge of losing their free will. Numerous organizations are raising voices for free speech and privacy rights. Multiple states are also enacting steps against it. Surveillance Capitalism essays and reviews are getting focused on netizens all over the world. Finally, The hope for surveillance capitalism lies in creating a better future and demolishing our existing world structure, if handled more cautiously.

The writer studied from CSE at Military Institute of Science and Technology, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

You can reach him: [email protected]


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