• paragism

Surveillance Capitalism and the Internet Era – Why We Need 'Brave'! Part 2

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Surveillance capitalism is about commodification of personal information. Social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff coined the term. Capitalism is fundamentally aggressive in nature and aggressive capitalism has started to monitor our private internet spaces. With the evolving time, capitalism has also evolved to focus on our personal internet life by data collection and tracking. The intent of data collection is purely profit making. This article comes as the second part on the topic. The first part is available here.

To start, let’s remember Mary Mallon. She was an Irish-born cook. She is believed to have infected huge no of people, for whom she worked as a cook, with typhoid fever. She was the first person in the United States to get identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the disease. Mary was involved in very high no of typhoid outbreaks and generally left job after an outbreak began, without giving a forwarding address. Mallon attracted extreme media attention and she was called ‘Typhoid Mary’ in a 1908 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Image Source: Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook – Typhoid Mary of Surveillance Economy?

Modern day surveillance capitalism evolved at Google. In 2001, dotcom bubble was bursting and Google started to do trial & error experiments with user data logs for predicting clicks on advertisements. Google tasted success and they started to do mass marketing just like Ford did in 1908 with their Model T, the first mass marketed automobile to the middle class. Data was gold. Google realized early that they could extract human experience data at no extra cost. The default model for capital accumulation in the Silicon Valley was generated. Sheryl Sandberg, presently the COO of Facebook, played the role of ‘Typhoid Mary’ by bringing surveillance capitalism from Google to Facebook in 2008, when she joined Mark Zuckerberg’s team. Surveillance capitalism isn’t restricted to the internet sector only now. It has penetrated our lives with every internet enabled device or service to collect behavioral data surplus to predict our futures in a surveillance economy. The scope of surveillance capitalism has moved from individual to cities & societies. The learning curve is driven by competition in predicting user behavior. More surplus data, more accurate prediction. Surveillance capitalism is penetrating each and every moment of our lives behind the veil of the technology. The next big thing is gonna be behavioral modification.

Brave, a Chromium-based browser, came as a tool to protect privacy. Brave was developed by Brendan Eich, Mozilla’s founder and creator of JavaScript. Brave famously disrupted the browser industry by offering out-of-the-box privacy settings and security. Recently Brave filed an official complaint accusing Google of infringing the ‘purpose limitation’ principle of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and created storm by describing Google's privacy policies as 'hopelessly vague and unspecific'. Okay, this ‘purpose limitation principle of GDPR talks about the purposes for which the data is collected and processed. Brave is really brave! They’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest.

There has been so many nightmarish researches about how different browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge are breaching our privacy. Some browsers are reportedly connecting to advertising servers and even linking identifiers to the device hardware. The haziness, regarding how long they store our logged telemetry data and access it, will never disappear. ‘Search autocomplete’ is also a dangerous dark feature of many browsers. The issue with many of the browsers is that they do all these things by default. A non-technical person or an unaware user becomes extremely vulnerable to information gathering by default also.

I tried to jot down a brief overview of Brave:

  • Blocks ads and trackers by default: It has default settings that block phishing, malware, and mal advertising. Also risky plugins are disabled by default. To fight cookie-based tracking, Brave has tight restrictions on what sites can place cookies on your browser and limits which sites can identify you.

  • Protection against browser fingerprinting: Brave is not in the personal data business. Brave servers neither see nor store your browsing data. It stays private on your devices until deletion. So basically your data can’t be sold to any third party. Tracking on the Web has moved from cookie-based to fingerprinting-based and most browsers do not have useful defenses against browser fingerprinting. Browser fingerprinting is a mechanism of building a large collection of things that are a little bit unique about your browser and your environment (ex – OS, size of browser window, computer hardware), and combining them into a ‘fingerprint’ to identify you. Brave has now started to add randomization to some fingerprinting endpoints in its Nightly version. This new approach makes every browser unique between websites and between browsing sessions.

  • Automatic up gradation to HTTPS: Brave automatically upgrades to HTTPS for secure, encrypted communications. An ordinary browser can use an insecure connection but Brave eliminates that risk.

  • Script blocking: Creator of JavaScript provides you JavaScript blocking feature also.

Brave is useful if you are not a software configuration tech geek. Just download it and you get enough reasons for mental peace. I’m not going to talk about the built-in ad blocker as it’ll be out of context. Is Brave an answer to surveillance capitalism? Okay! At least it shows us a door to freedom! Internet has become our voice today. We voice about our fundamental rights like freedom of speech, assembly, press, protest etc. over internet. Free internet has almost become a fundamental right. Is it the time to demand private internet as our fundamental right now? In the surveillance society of nightmares, Brave obviously comes like a ray of hope. A stubborn commodity is making us realize that we shouldn’t be commoditized. Sounds funny! Brave alone won’t change everything but let’s begin the battle to secure civil liberty. At least we’re being witness to a privacy first future web standards due to Brave! The most profound transformation of our information environment is awaited.