Ch 09: Surveillance Capitalism

Big Gaps, Big Data, Big Problems

Shoshana Zuboff really honestly and bluntly talked about the dangers of surveillance capitalism, which is this week’s new post-pandemic university concern. She has done several talks, interviews and articles on the surveillance capitalism and how with the big data, comes big problems. Surveillance capitalism is a huge issue today, what will all the obsession and widespread addition with social media and internet usage. And I use those terms because it’s true. Would be able to manage if we didn’t have any social media or digital platforms to communicate? Would it be okay to write letters, or better yet, just make the time to meet people? Yes, it would be. But it would be a very difficult task for most people to take on. Unfortunately, this addiction to social media and smart phones is being compromised for the purpose of convenience in place of privacy. So let’s see to what cost the compromise is taking the world.

Zuboff defines surveillance capitalism to have its aim to predict and modify human behavior as a means to produce revenue and market control. The influx of everyday data from millions of apps, and social media platforms becomes the primary target of commercialization strategies. The ads you see, the words you read, the pop-ups that block your screen? Those aren’t by mistake, it’s done purposefully so that you can be sucked into beliefs, values, and views that you would have never considered if left to yourself. The commercialization strategies stem from “big data.” That’s what you and me send away without even wanting to, building a world of “data, democracy, and dirty tricks.” As Zuboff expressed, “The road to the digital future has been hijacked.” And why is that? Because we as consumers, as users and creators of big data, are willing to let it happen. We are supporting it, letting Google, Facebook and other websites to take our information and share it. Is it because we are completely oblivious? No, but it’s because we would rather have convenience than privacy. How is giving away your privacy bringing convenience to your fingertips? Everyone, everything knows about you and the information you have put out there. Whether it’s the insurance market, education, retail, healthcare or real estate, all the information in all these sectors has become a public display accessible for the people who truly want your information (whatever reason it may be).

The raw material of the human experiences is manipulated and turned into predictable and rich signals, also known as data. It sounds like a process of a product being manufactured, which is Zuboff describes as computational factories. Our personal details go in, get manipulated and come out as information that websites and platforms use against use, creating what we call surveillance capitalism. It’s not just what we type in; it’s what we show as well. Zuboff talks about the significance of facial muscles and how gestures can display certain emotions, create a language, a way of communicating. With this, facial recognition technology firm Cambridge Analytica became “a parasite on a larger host”, as part of surveillance capitalism. Why is this type of capitalism thriving and flourishing? Because of the society’s gaps and vulnerability. The growing income inequality is become worse and worse as years go by, so parents have to work multiple jobs just to keep their food on the table. What does that mean? It means tired, overworked, overwhelmed and exhausted adults looking for a little convenience in their lives.  And that desire for convenience passes on to their children, permeating throughout the household. SO what does convenience mean when it comes to internet? It means apps, websites, one click of a button that makes things reach your house, mind, eyes, etc faster and easier. The less effort, the better. But the question lies? Is all this convenience really worth one’s privacy and better one’s peace of mind? For me, it’s not. Because with big gaps, comes big data, come big problems.  

One reply on “Big Gaps, Big Data, Big Problems”

I’m glad you brought up the how heavily convenience factors into our decision to continue giving away our data. I think what you mention in your last paragraph is really important; our current society is structured in a way that forces both partners in a home to work long hours for low wages, so convenience is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. Theoretically, I agree with you that I’d rather not give away my data for the sake of convenience, but practically, I genuinely need to use this tech (and consequently give up my data) to earn my degree, do my job, connect with friends and relatives, etc. I’m hoping we’ll have time to discuss this dilemma more in depth during during my “pathfinding” this week!

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