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Over the last year (at least) I’ve been talking about the dangers of surveillance capitalism. Stephen Haggard picked up on this and, after an email conversation, sent through an audio provocation for disucssion.
If you’d like to join this discussion, feel free to comment on this microcast, or reply with your own thoughts in audio or text format in a part of the web under your control!
- Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance (EFF)
- The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (Shoshana Zuboff)
- Zeugma and syllepsis (Wikipedia)
- General Data Protection Regulation (Wikipedia)
- Hierarchy Is Not the Problem (Richard D. Bartlett)
- Instead of breaking up big tech, let’s break them open (Redecentralize)
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Image cropped and rotated from an original by Tim Gouw
Noel De Martin
14 February 2020 — 07:40
When I’ve been thinking about Surveillance Capitalism I’ve come to realize that the anti-Surveillance Capitalism movement is very similar to the Free Software movement. In the sense that some people is worried about the ethics but the majority of users don’t care and companies go the other way around (proprietary software). I don’t like how Free Software has ended up. Of course, it’s still alive, but as of now I’d say it lost the batte.
Now, some real consequences of Surveillance Capitalism? For me the most detrimental are vendor lock-in and online advertisement.
The fact that for this model to work they need huge amounts of data makes the software monopolistic by nature. You’ve mentioned in the podcast that this may be the nature of Capitalism, but I disagree because under Capitalism it’s fine if you get a good margin on a single user. Whereas in this case, you need everybody for compounding effects. Small companies can do Capitalism, they can’t do Surveillance Capitalism. Seth Godin talks about this in an Akimbo episode called “The free market has an enemy”. The direct consequence of vendor lock-in for users is that it kills innovation, among other things.
And the other thing is online advertisement, which in my opinion goes hand in hand with the epidemic of free (users have gotten used to not paying for software). The most detrimental consequences of this are Fake News and the dominance in society of anxiety-inducing Social Media patterns.
What are some of the solutions I see to this? As we talked some weeks ago, the key for me is Open Protocols. Like Email and RSS. If the underlying technology is open, there can be no vendor lock-in. Monopolies still happen (most people use gmail), but there is at least a path for individuals who chose to do otherwise. I think this is essential but only the first step, the most difficult thing to do is educate people. Individuals are the ones who must chose the alternatives. DuckDuckGo exists, why doesn’t more people use it? Privacy respecting email providers exist, why doesn’t more people use them?
I see laws playing a part. But as you’ve mentioned, laws didn’t win the hearts and minds of users, and I think that’s the important part. To be frank, I’m not sure how to go about this :/. Education? Yes, but how? When I look beyond my own perspective, I cannot see a viable solution for society. After all, society let this happen. Maybe 100 or 1000 years from now it’ll be different, but on the short term I’m optimistic about myself and pessimistic about society.
28 February 2020 — 23:54
I have tried and failed to record an audio response to this, so have turned to text. I think the challenge we face in regards to surveillance capitalism is one around narrative. Although we live in an ‘Informed Era‘, there is always more that can be done. As I have discussed elsewhere:
The challenge as I see it is to understand that consent is something that we inadvertently give each time we tap into an application. I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed.
One of the issues with this is the danger to be black and white with such conversations. I recently read a piece the discussed the problem with science research being one of narrative, rather than just explaining the facts. I think that the same applies for discussions around surveillance capitalism.
Although people like Douglas Rushkoff have raised concern about narrative and storytelling, I feel that until we have different people talking about the topic it is not going to go anywhere.
29 February 2020 — 08:51
Thanks Aaron, some useful thoughts and links in that comment. I’ve noticed over here a change in mood from Facebook, Google, etc. being ‘cool’ to them being just big companies that we have to deal with. I think that swing might have a knock-on effect in the type of legislation that people have an appetite for, too.