The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

‘What is surveillance capitalism?

Here is one definition: Surveillance capitalism is an economic system centred around the commodification of personal data with the core purpose of profit-making.

The internet has opened up the world in ways that some of us (born in the middle of last century) would not have imagined as children.  While many aspects of this are good (how wonderful it is to discuss my favourite books in an online community) other aspects are concerning.  In this book, Ms Zuboff’s hypothesis is that capitalism today is increasingly surveillance-based, driven by companies making money because they know our behaviours and who attempt to influence those behaviours to maximise their  opportunities to make money.  Those of us who use both Google and Facebook (in particular) see it frequently.  In my case, a search for a particular book will often be reflected in my Facebook feed by an increase in book (or bookseller) items.

Is this a bad thing?  Well, not necessarily.  It may save me some time if I am looking for something.  Does it influence my purchasing?  Sometimes.  But then, I am old and like to think about my purchases and consider my options.

It is not just internet browsing that contributes to surveillance capitalism.  Many people have several smart appliances, most of us have smart phones and there are plenty of ‘things’ with data-enabled sensors and software embedded in them.  The key, in Ms Zuboff’s book, is the increasing use of prediction to tailor commercial offerings.  Of course, there is a fine line between predicting what an individual might want and manipulating them towards choosing a particular product.  Or has that fine line ceased to exist?

While I found this book interesting and some parts concerning, I am not yet prepared to abandon my connectedness.   I’ll be alert, not alarmed and I’ll work a little harder on my unpredictability.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

3 thoughts on “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

  1. I think I heard discussion of this book on Radio National?
    I heard today at the NF festival about an example of the risks: people who do those ancestry gene tests may not have privacy protection of their data, and if it gets matched up with the data of someone else in the ‘genetic family’ and that person has a genetic illness or disability, they may not be able to get health or life insurance. So the purchase of a test out of idle curiosity about your ancestry could have serious ramifications.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Privacy versus convenience seems to be the key issue. Smart appliances involve trade-offs. The ancestry gene test is not something I’ve done, and I think I’ll remain untested.


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