Surveillance Capitalism: What the largest tech companies don’t want you to know.

Surveillance Capitalism is a theft in which human experience is used to exploit us.

Posted by Chloé Moshrefi on April 5, 2021

Think to yourself, how many times a day do you check your phone? The average American cannot go ten minutes without picking up a device. That can be anywhere between 100-150 times a day, creating such a dependency that we feel naked without them. But, the reality that every human has not realized is that our phones are far more dependent on us than we are on them. Every second, our data is being collected and sold. This is prevalent now more than ever, as our devices have become a way of life.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the economy was looking forward to a new era of modernity in which capitalism was being tested. Along with this wave, the world’s largest rising private companies such as Google, Facebook, and Intel introduced an individual rather than mass-oriented structure of engagement where an emphasis on serving each customer’s needs was placed. Back then, all human data was considered “waste material” as they could only use it to further improve their products. Eventually, these companies realized that the benefit of exploiting human behavior as a form of profit was far more advantageous to their success than only providing services. The new market of surveillance capitalism arose in a shift from natural dependencies to a world where all our privacy became public information. We are officially participating in the most massive socio-economic experiment in human history. Initiator of this concept and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff has coined this shifting economic focus to be described as “the unilateral claiming of human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.”

In Simple Terms, What really is Surveillance Capitalism?

Have you ever noticed yourself talking about a specific product and it shows up in your recommended purchases? Or how our social media feed is unusually personalized? Algorithms have been designed to analyze and understand human behavior, which is auctioned for predictions in our next move. This issue begins with our favorite social media platforms manipulating us through advertisements. Personalization is the key to building their business model.

Surveillance capitalism is disguised in everything that we do. While we may think that these corporations only have information that we willingly give them while online, our personal data collection is being conducted at all times and especially in the forms that we unwillingly leave in the digital world. As you are reading this, you may be thinking to yourself that you have nothing to hide, and the only “personal” information is our name, address, or email. In Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she makes it clear that the real psychological truth behind this is “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you are nothing.” We all perceive that we have nothing to hide, but factors such as what we search on the internet, how fast we drive, our location, our relationships, political views, economic status, and health issues all play a role in what our devices extract from us. All of this is the information we provide without a second thought.

This is where the “capitalism” aspect comes into play. Tech companies soon learned that this once “waste material” was far more valuable to their profits than the products they were actually selling. Surveillance capitalism transformed these companies to spy and exploit us, rather than serve us with their products. They reap these huge profits by packaging our personal information into data sets and selling them as prediction products to business customers interested in our behavior futures. Our devices assume our every move including what we are going to do now, soon, and later. We use the internet as a form of knowledge and assistance with our problems, but surveillance capitalism uses the information we look up as power to target humanity.

What does it look like now?

Technology’s ability to maintain relevancy is beyond supply and demand; capitalism is now aligned with the needs of individuals. What should blow your mind is that supply and demand are not what makes the majority of the money for tech companies, it is the constant exploitation. For example, Facebook data scientists use their accumulated data to manipulate our emotions through targeted advertisements. The more time we spend, the more they can extract from us and use against us. The psychological aspect becomes so important that Facebook must find any way possible to keep us on their app.

Furthermore, every picture that is posted on Facebook is analyzed to every single muscle on our faces. The next time your mom or dad posts a picture of you on Facebook, you can be certain that you’re a test subject for facial recognition software across the spectrum. The future of facial recognition is all in something as simple as a careless photo. Also, to no surprise, the Amazon Alexa that you wake up to every morning and engage in conversation with is always listening to you; how else would she be so quick to respond to her name? She is a glorified human who hears everything we say and processes it to predict our next suggestion.

How can we prevent its progression?

This economic logic is going to drive society in a frightening trajectory. Already in China, personal data from mobile phones track their citizen’s every move. They are punished for undesirable instances such as j-walking or spending too much time playing video games. China sets an example for the fact that humanity is being robbed of its fundamental rights, and privacy and security are one of many.

We must demand the freedom to not be monetized and tracked as robots. Exploitation is not inherent to human nature and authenticity must be encouraged. If we don’t do something about this, similarly to China, we will also eventually have democracy in addition to privacy at stake. Surveillance Capitalism will go beyond an economic experiment. Consider this your wake-up call, and make sure this cancer to society does not revoke what belongs to us. We should never be an appendage and must never lose our autonomy. Stand for a “privacy revolution.”