Unable to play video. HTML5 is not supported! Content loading… Our lives and habits are being tracked. Every time we tap in a Google search, every time we click “Like” on Facebook and every time we make an Amazon purchase, we are giving away information about ourselves: our thoughts, our preferences, our behaviors. We are providing data that can be packaged up and sold to companies, which then use that data to try to modify our behavior and steer us toward buying their products and services. Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it the commodification of human data. In the information era we live in, she explains in her new book, “The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism,” we are the marketable product. It’s a terrifying idea. In an interview with HuffPost, Zuboff talks about how this new world is not just a threat to our privacy, but — as it starts to shape our actions — to our democracy itself: So, what is surveillance capitalism? It’s important to know that in many ways, surveillance capitalism differs dramatically from other forms of capitalism over the last couple of centuries. Capitalism is claiming things that live outside the marketplace, bringing them […]
So, what is surveillance capitalism?
It’s important to know that in many ways, surveillance capitalism differs dramatically from other forms of capitalism over the last couple of centuries. Capitalism is claiming things that live outside the marketplace, bringing them into the market and turning them into what people call “commodities,” things that can be sold and purchased.
Industrial capitalism, which dominated the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, famously claimed nature. The trees and the forests and the rivers — these are entities that have a life of their own. Industrial capitalism brought nature into the market dynamic, and nature was reborn. It was called “land,” and it was called “real estate.” That allowed it to be sold and purchased and become the source of profit.
Surveillance capitalism proceeds according to this pattern, but with a dark and unexpected twist. So unexpected, in fact, that it’s taken us quite a while to catch on to what they’ve actually done. Surveillance capitalism claims private human experience for the market dynamic.
It says that private human experience is now a source of free, raw material — just like harvesting wheat or collecting ore from a mountain side. [We are] a source of free, raw material that can be processed into data, and those data can be computed and sold and purchased and owned.
That sequence has created the largest, wealthiest and most powerful companies — like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon — that the world has ever known. All of that begins with the unilateral declaration that private human experience is ours for the taking.
Those predictions are not to improve our lives, but rather they’re sold to business customers who have a business interest in knowing what we will do next — because that raises the certainty that they have about how to successfully sell us things or how to reward and punish us in real time in order to get us to behave in a way that serves their bottom line.