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Much of our stock is ex-library due to our close relationships with UK libraries. We offer a service that helps them keep their unwanted books out of landfill. The first hint of what was to come was a pair of startling essays — one in an academic journal in , the other in a German newspaper in What these revealed was that she had come up with a new lens through which to view what Google, Facebook et al were doing — nothing less than spawning a new variant of capitalism. Those essays promised a more comprehensive expansion of this Big Idea.
And now it has arrived — the most ambitious attempt yet to paint the bigger picture and to explain how the effects of digitisation that we are now experiencing as individuals and citizens have come about. It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behaviour of those users in astonishing detail — often without their explicit consent.
Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour. While the general modus operandi of Google , Facebook et al has been known and understood at least by some people for a while, what has been missing — and what Zuboff provides — is the insight and scholarship to situate them in a wider context.
Viewed from this perspective, the behaviour of the digital giants looks rather different from the roseate hallucinations of Wired magazine. What one sees instead is a colonising ruthlessness of which John D Rockefeller would have been proud. Then the use of patented methods to extract or infer data even when users had explicitly denied permission, followed by the use of technologies that were opaque by design and fostered user ignorance. And, of course, there is also the fact that the entire project was conducted in what was effectively lawless — or at any rate law-free — territory.
Thus Google decided that it would digitise and store every book ever printed, regardless of copyright issues. The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers invisible, unknown and unaccountable and the watched.
This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power. But whereas most democratic societies have at least some degree of oversight of state surveillance, we currently have almost no regulatory oversight of its privatised counterpart. This is intolerable. That means that self-regulation is a nonstarter.
The Age of Surveillance Capital is a striking and illuminating book. And if we fail to tame the new capitalist mutant rampaging through our societies then we will only have ourselves to blame, for we can no longer plead ignorance.
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John Naughton: At the moment, the world is obsessed with Facebook. But as you tell it, Google was the prime mover. Shoshana Zuboff: Surveillance capitalism is a human creation. It lives in history, not in technological inevitability. It was pioneered and elaborated through trial and error at Google in much the same way that the Ford Motor Company discovered the new economics of mass production or General Motors discovered the logic of managerial capitalism.
Surveillance capitalism was invented around as the solution to financial emergency in the teeth of the dotcom bust when the fledgling company faced the loss of investor confidence. Operationally this meant that Google would both repurpose its growing cache of behavioural data, now put to work as a behavioural data surplus, and develop methods to aggressively seek new sources of this surplus.
The company developed new methods of secret surplus capture that could uncover data that users intentionally opted to keep private, as well as to infer extensive personal information that users did not or would not provide. And this surplus would then be analysed for hidden meanings that could predict click-through behaviour. The surplus data became the basis for new predictions markets called targeted advertising.
Here was the origin of surveillance capitalism in an unprecedented and lucrative brew: behavioural surplus, data science, material infrastructure, computational power, algorithmic systems, and automated platforms. As click-through rates skyrocketed, advertising quickly became as important as search.
Eventually it became the cornerstone of a new kind of commerce that depended upon online surveillance at scale. The success of these new mechanisms only became visible when Google went public in JN: So surveillance capitalism started with advertising, but then became more general? SZ: Surveillance capitalism is no more limited to advertising than mass production was limited to the fabrication of the Ford Model T.
It quickly became the default model for capital accumulation in Silicon Valley, embraced by nearly every startup and app. It has spread across a wide range of products, services, and economic sectors, including insurance, retail, healthcare, finance, entertainment, education, transportation, and more, birthing whole new ecosystems of suppliers, producers, customers, market-makers, and market players. I am fascinated by the structure of colonial conquest, especially the first Spaniards who stumbled into the Caribbean islands.
Back then Columbus simply declared the islands as the territory of the Spanish monarchy and the pope. The sailors could not have imagined that they were writing the first draft of a pattern that would echo across space and time to a digital 21st century. The first surveillance capitalists also conquered by declaration. They simply declared our private experience to be theirs for the taking, for translation into data for their private ownership and their proprietary knowledge.
They relied on misdirection and rhetorical camouflage, with secret declarations that we could neither understand nor contest. Google began by unilaterally declaring that the world wide web was its to take for its search engine. Surveillance capitalism originated in a second declaration that claimed our private experience for its revenues that flow from telling and selling our fortunes to other businesses.
In both cases, it took without asking. Page [Larry, Google co-founder] foresaw that surplus operations would move beyond the online milieu to the real world, where data on human experience would be free for the taking. As it turns out his vision perfectly reflected the history of capitalism, marked by taking things that live outside the market sphere and declaring their new life as market commodities.
We were caught off guard by surveillance capitalism because there was no way that we could have imagined its action, any more than the early peoples of the Caribbean could have foreseen the rivers of blood that would flow from their hospitality toward the sailors who appeared out of thin air waving the banner of the Spanish monarchs. Like the Caribbean people, we faced something truly unprecedented.
Actually, some information is lacking to give you good advice. Keep the Flame Burning Bright. Back Today. McCurry was letting her have it. That year, spurred on by her dad, she also enlisted as the lead plaintiff in a voting rights case.
Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.
This duality set information technology apart from earlier generations of technology: information technology produces new knowledge territories by virtue of its informating capability, always turning the world into information. The result is that these new knowledge territories become the subject of political conflict.
Now the same dilemmas of knowledge, authority and power have surged over the walls of our offices, shops and factories to flood each one of us… and our societies. Surveillance capitalists were the first movers in this new world. They declared their right to know, to decide who knows, and to decide who decides.
hukusyuu.com/profile/2019-12-15/computer-per-handy-ueberwachen.php JN: So the big story is not really the technology per se but the fact that it has spawned a new variant of capitalism that is enabled by the technology? We have no formal control over these processes because we are not essential to the new market action.
Instead we are exiles from our own behaviour, denied access to or control over knowledge derived from its dispossession by others for others.
We are the native peoples now whose claims to self-determination have vanished from the maps of our own experience. While it is impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without the digital, it is easy to imagine the digital without surveillance capitalism. The point cannot be emphasised enough: surveillance capitalism is not technology. Digital technologies can take many forms and have many effects, depending upon the social and economic logics that bring them to life.
Surveillance capitalism relies on algorithms and sensors, machine intelligence and platforms, but it is not the same as any of those.