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Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism is a new genus of capitalism that generates measurable economics benefits from available data sources that are acquired through surveillance or, it can be defined as the new form of capitalism that works by creating surplus value from the data extracted from people in digital environments. It was invented by companies like Google and Facebook in the Internet era. We have heard before, how companies treat you as the product rather than a customer but now it is said that users are neither buyers nor sellers nor products.

Google’s success has implications for everyone who live within the reach of the internet. Google is ground zero for a wholly new subspecies of capitalism in which profits derived from the unilateral surveillance and modification of human behavior. This is a new surveillance capitalism that is unimaginable outside the inscrutable high velocity circuits of Google’s digital universe, whose signature feature is the Internet and its successors.

When the Web came along, funded by ads that capture data and let marketers to precisely identify, track, and profile viewers.

Google and Facebook took that technology to the next level, using artificial intelligence to build systems that continuously “grow” user profiles, harvesting every interaction for usable “behavioral metrics”. Those profiles have become us, and they’re used to watch us.

The upside looks like what I’ve been calling “surveillance utopianism”- Amazon knows you so well they know exactly when the drone should stop by with the evening’s bottle of whatever wine you prefer, either nicely chilled or allowed to breathe. That’s the promise of a world where we’re so completely under surveillance. It’s a consumer paradise of products and needs satisfied before they even come to mind, because the profiling grows that smart. But in that world you can’t trust anything at all. You’ll never know if a day’s worth of subtle manipulations embedded within every digital interaction hadn’t planted that desire for that bottle of wine.

Some of the companies and their idea of getting information of every single person:

  • Facebook, in May,2017 uses real-time emotional profiling to target vulnerable teenagers with commercial offers.

  • Google tracked Android users even when they are not supposed to.

  • Amazon wants access to your home.

  • Apple developed a next-generation smartphone that provides a real-time stream of facial gestures to any app that wants to measure your emotional reactions.

The surplus they all produce sometimes known as “behavioural surplus”. Surplus is what is sold to different companies, and to the anyone who wants to have predictive capacity. From this, they will generate revenue per person and as per their information they collected and information they want. The information and metadata about users is what is called as “the demographics”. Data or information they contains may be - name, date of birth, gender, income level, urban and rural location, ethnic character, ownership of home, automobile details, credit and status, and all the small details we can not even imagine. This all information can be collected with live streams and users real-time geolocation.

The CEO of Allstate Insurance wants to be like Google.

He says, “There are lots of people who are monetizing data today. You get on Google, and it seems like it is free. It is not free. You are giving them information, they sell your information. Could we, should we, sell this information we get from people driving around to various people and capture some additional profit source? It’s a long term game.

The game is no longer about sending targeting online advertising. The game is selling access to the real world.

Having users who are not customer is not only thing these two companies have in common. Both also have two-tier shareholding structures which means that a small number of founders and senior executives control them.

The two companies are also alike in the dizzying scale of the data they process, and the sheer number of data traces that their users leave behind. It is the extraordinary levels of user engagement that allows Google and Facebook to operate as an unprecedented kind of commercial entity. A new beast has arrived in the capitalist jungle and we have no idea how to handle it.

There are aspects of the companies’ influence that were apparently not foreseen by the firms themselves either, including the way that their advertising systems would allow pressure groups, parties and governments to covertly target voters with precisely calibrated political messages. It hardly matters that this influence wasn’t sought by either firm, when liberal democracy is nonetheless being shaken by the consequences.

Surveillance capitalism reaches beyond the conventional institutional terrain of the private firm. It accumulates not only surveillance assets and capital, but also rights. This unilateral redistribution of rights sustains a privately administered compliance regime of rewards and punishments that is largely free from detection or sanction. It operates without meaningful mechanisms of consent either in the traditional form of “exit, voice, or loyalty” associated with markets or in the form of democratic oversight expressed in law and regulation.

The imperatives of surveillance capitalism mean that there must always be more behavioral surplus for Google and others to turn into surveillance assets, master as prediction, sell into exclusive markets for future behavior, and transform into capital. At Google and its new holding company called Alphabet, for example, every operation and investment aims to increasing the harvest of behavioral surplus from people, bodies, things, processes, and places in both the virtual and the real world. This is how a sixty-seven hour day dawns and darkens in an emerald sky. Nothing short of a social revolt that revokes collective agreement to the practices associated with the dispossession of behavior will alter surveillance capitalism’s claim to manifest data destiny. Facebook’s aim is to capture the attention of its users—to distract them.

Most of its efforts are devoted to creating addictive diversions which maximise that all-important (and monetizable) “user engagement”; in other words, providing services and products that offer instant gratification over reflection or even thought.

We can stop complying with the services that ask us to trade on our privacy. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Those who give up privacy for convenience deserve neither.

The Remedy:

  • Rules to prevent the formation of monopolies. Monopolies have always been deemed evil because they inflicted economic harm on customers.

  • Effective regulatory action must focus on the auction systems.

  • Revisiting tech giants legal responsibility

  • Political campaigning

  • We can make demands. We can demand transparency that doesn’t hide itself behind a 50 page terms-and-conditions document written to be as opaque as a sheet of lead.


We have seen bare facts of Surveillance Capitalism, from that we can conclude that it is necessary to know its effect. We are on our own, if we do not want to be part of it we have to take some necessary steps, may be we should stop using services like Google and Facebook who are the leader of Surveillance Capitalism. And ultimately, this step will have dramatic impact on the company. A million people would suddenly find that it is possible to kick the social media habit. And they would have an extra hour in their day to do something really interesting and useful to the society.

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