Surveilance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism is undermining personal autonomy and eroding democracy. It is claiming the human private experience and using our time which is turned into behavioral data. what people may not realize about companies such as Facebook, Google, etc. is the selling of this behavioral data as predictions for future advertising, looking into what we as consumers (or products, really) are most likely to do next or how to gain maximum benefits from our interactions.  To quote Shoshana Zuboff, Harward professor and author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” she explains: “We rushed to the internet expecting empowerment, the democratization of knowledge, and help with real problems, but surveillance capitalism really was just too lucrative to resist. This economic logic has now spread beyond the tech companies to new surveillance-based ecosystems in virtually every economic sector, from insurance to automobiles to health, education, finance, to every product described as “smart” and every service described as “personalized.” It is virtually impossible to participate in society without interacting with these channels and interfaces. How have we as a society allowed it to get this far? A few reasons (16 if we take from Zuboff). One major factor, thanks to Google and the invention of this term in 2001, is the “neoliberal consensus” or free-market capitalism and self-regulation of companies that allowed these enterprises to make massive gains in data research and user behavior. Another would be that when the US implemented the Patriot Act.

Human Domain & The Patriot Act

The Patriot Act is legislation passed in 2001 to improve the abilities of U.S. law enforcement to detect and deter terrorism. This was done after the massive devastation and tech lockdown as a result of 9/11. The act's official title is, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” or USA-PATRIOT. In essence, this brings awareness to the importance of knowing where and by whom sites are registered. This determines who has access and control over the data it holds.  It is hard to wrap around the size of data that is being talked about here. All data stored by US companies, in non-US data centers fall under this umbrella. This includes Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, Dropbox, Microsoft, and so many others.  Rather than protecting the country from potential terrorists, it is mostly used for looking into the online presence of Americans. What is even worse is that this extends to non-Americans, because the ‘cloud’ people around the globe are subject to the same invasion. As a product of the technological advancements and unknown possibilities that accompany it is the term Human Domain.  The one which is eternal in all war and immutable—the human domain. War is always a political act done by humans. Special Operations Forces (SOF) must build capability and capacity to scientifically understand, accurately interpret and effectively influence human behavior. It is the physical, cultural, and social environments as it relates to the sphere of human activity that exists within an area of interest, conflict, or military operations other than war that includes using the internet to learn and potentially weaponize human behavior.

Internet Voyeurism 

The Internet intensifies our natural voyeuristic tendencies. Most of this unilateral spying takes place on the Net through cameras that allow us to watch people in their most private moments. It can involve sexual or nonsexual acts, but on the Internet, even predominantly nonsexual spying gives you the thrill of being an uninvited guest into someone else’s life. But just how normalized has this become? As a society we have become so accustomed to looking into each other’s lives via Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, through email chains, and blog posts; to a point where it seems, there is an unresistible scratch for voyeurism. However, this can also be a sign of our increasingly disconnected lives. We live vicariously through each other’s curated screens. The less time we spend interacting with people, the more we desire the instant gratification of the internet and social media. Take a disaster like this Covis-19 pandemic, and we are creating a community that cannot function without constantly looking into each other’s lonely worlds.

The Digital Gaze

The digital gaze can be triggered, not only by people but also inanimate objects. The digital gaze presents itself in everyday life. The show and tell aspect of social media invites this concept of a digital gaze where one can look curiously and judge, all while remaining silent and hidden. associated with the gaze. Aspects such as power dynamics, the male gaze, and race. The theory of gaze is one looking into another or group of others, in real life, a photograph, work of art, film, etc.  To look without the entitlement or knowledge of the other party asserts a dominance for the viewer - taking in the spectacle. However, when we think of social media.. is that really what we do? Well, yes. In fact, thanks to our digital devices, we have procured even more secretive vantage points, creating a digital gaze. “Like the invention of perspective in painting, the personal feeds of social media are designed to converge upon us so that we become the ideal viewer.”


1: What is my data used for?

2: Should I delete my social media accounts?

3: How do I know if a tech platform is being ethically run?

4: What is the attention extraction economy? 

5: How are algorithms and AI at play with data privacy?

6: What policy and regulation will aid this dilemma for the future?
1: Websites use your data—the topics you search for, the websites you visit, the links you “like” on social media, and so forth—to create a profile of your interests which they use to choose ads especially for you. If you’ve ever purchased a new pair of shoes or simply browsed a few styles online, only to start noticing ads for those products on your sidebar, that’s no coincidence. Websites are picking up on everything you search for in order to design a personalized advertising experience just for you. See other uses of your data here

2: If you can’t delete your accounts due to work or other reasons, or aren’t ready to let go, there are other ways to take action. It’s also important to note that deleting your own accounts won’t solve the systemic problem (though it will likely improve your life!). Film subject Tristan Harris has emphasized that even people who aren’t on social media are affected by what the business model is doing to society. While individuals reducing or eliminating their usage and support of companies is a first step, we need systemic changes to how technology is designed and regulated to fully address and reverse our shared dilemma. Source

3: How is the company collecting and using your data? Is it possible to use it against you – for example, to hook or manipulate you? How is the company making money? Companies that charge subscription fees and/or sell hardware in addition to software tend to treat your data and wellbeing more ethically because they don’t exclusively rely on advertising revenue. Is the service free? If so, remember that you’re the product. Who and what does the platform connect you with? Services that foster authentic connection and relationships, like video calls and texting, are a safer bet than platforms that use an algorithm to recommend new people, products, and posts. Source

4: The attention extraction economy refers to technology platforms that profit from the monetization of human attention and engagement. This includes, but is not limited to, Facebook (which owns Instagram), Twitter, TikTok and companies like Google (which owns YouTube) that profit from keeping users hooked on their platforms because more engagement means more advertising dollars. Source

5: As artificial intelligence evolves, it magnifies the ability to use personal information in ways that can intrude on privacy interests by raising analysis of personal information to new levels of power and speed. An obvious example of AI in data management is in data matching, which is a core element of data quality and master data management tools. ... In large companies, data related to key subjects such as customers or products is often duplicated across multiple systems. Furthter explanation sourced here.

6: Through lesson plans as well as algorithms, through deep conversations as well as code, this movement is creating the conditions for humane technology that: Is values-centric and designed with awareness that technology is never neutral, and is inevitably shaped by its surrounding socioeconomic environment. Is sensitive to human nature and doesn’t exploit our innate physiological vulnerabilities. Narrows the gap between the powerful and the marginalized instead of increasing that gap. Reduces greed and hatred instead of perpetuating them. Helps to build shared reality instead of dividing us with fragmenting realities. Accounts for and minimizes the externalities that it generates in the world. Source


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