Surveillance Capitalism & the Internet Era - Why We Need 'Brave'! Part 1
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 the economic pressure attached to the aggression leads to monitoring of our private internet spaces. The world has changed so fast. We spend huge social internet time nowadays. Capitalism has also evolved to focus on our personal internet life by data collection and tracking. The motto of data collection is purely profit making.
The companies like Google and Facebook are continuously collecting our personal data. The objective is to use the data for more revenue generation. They are also changing our way of life as they are learning to modify our behavior to serve their business goals. Surveillance capitalism is spreading fast in the economy at the cost of our private lives. Privacy is for sale!
There is a counter argument. The tech companies are collecting data to improve user experience. Okay fine! For example, Google collects search or browsing data to improve user experience by analyzing his/her behavior. But the same behavioral data becomes a tool for Google to predict the customer will click which ad most likely. Then the data becomes behavioral surplus for Google. This surplus is not required basically to improve the services. It is used to make profit. More surplus means more profit. Here comes the corporate hunger. If more data can be hunted by breaching user privacy, more profit can be aimed. Ultimately behavioral data of user is gold.
Google started it. Facebook followed. Amazon saw the opportunity and grabbed it by launching ‘Alexa’, which is sensing and recording our words with the primary aim to personalize our experience. Yes personalization! That is the key word. A personalized experience can be shared only when personalized data can be collected. Personalized data is sensitive and dark. It often passes through different facets of our online life. If your behavior can be intersected, then only true personal experience can be provided. Once your behavior is collected, huge effort is provided to shape it according to the corporate needs. The tech companies are surveillance capitalists, which are trying to modify our behavior by collecting and shaping our behavior. We have been commoditized and the internet space has become a surveillance state.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal
Wondering how your behavior can be shaped up? Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018. The behavioral data of the Facebook users were analyzed without their consent and used for political advertisement to influence election results. The scandal has often been described as a watershed moment in the public understanding of personal data. When the news of the scandal broke out, Facebook maintained silence for long time and accepted later on.
Image Source - Mark Zuckerberg testifies in 2018 following the privacy scandal
The brainwashing service
Imagine to persuade a friend to do something he/she doesn’t really want to! Very difficult. The person will question your motive and try to resist you. Now suppose there is a way to persuade that person to agree with your objective by feeding them advertising without her/her knowledge. A lot of internet advertising companies work with this idea. A UK startup called ‘Spinner’ worked on this idea and started to personalize “subconscious influencing” for a specific person and no one else. Personalized advertising sounds good as targeting a diverse group with a single type of advertisement often doesn’t bring results. ‘Spinner’ package starts at 29$. Yes, damn cheap! With help of it, you can individually target someone in your life with specific Facebook ads designed to influence his/her behavior. You can even try to persuade a person to initiate sex more often. “Initiate Sex” campaign is their best-selling campaign. When your target is lured and he/she clicks on a specific link, the brainwashing begins. There are campaigns like “Bring Me Back My Ex” which aims to brainwash you ex-partner to come back to you. ‘Spinner’ showed the world how to monetize Facebook sniper targeting. Recently Facebook and Instagram banned ‘Spinner’ ads after public outrage as almost 30% ‘Spinner’ ads were running in their platforms.
Image Source – ‘Spinner’ Homepage offering brainwashing service
Face recognition database and breach of privacy
Many law enforcement agencies across the US have started using a new facial recognition system from Clearview AI. The AI system helps to match photos of unknown people to their online images. The database is made up of billions of images scraped from several social media sites. It is quite lethal weapon to end privacy. The technology is quite risky as it comes with extreme abusive power of the surveillance.
Have we given up our fundamental right of privacy in the era of internet for the convenience of tablets, smartphones and free internet? Or have we accepted that we need to be monitored by corporate giants and governments all the time? Surveillance has become the new model of internet business. Really it is! People are still not alarmed. We have accepted to be watched and shifted to become ‘products’ from being ‘consumers’. Does the world need a paradigm shift of technology and advertisement business model now? 'Brave' is a web browser which is challenging status quo of online advertisement by introducing unique privacy features. But can 'Brave' truly throw challenge to surveillance capitalism?
< Read part 2 here >