Harvard Business School professor emeritus Shoshana Zuboff wants you to understand that you and your data are on the menu in the age of surveillance capitalism.
"Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are private surveillance empires, each with distinct business models. Google and Facebook are data companies and surveillance-capitalist pure plays. The others have varied lines of business that may include data, services, software and physical products. ... As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, surveillance capitalism is the dominant economic institution of our time. In the absence of countervailing law, this system successfully mediates nearly every aspect of human engagement with digital information. ... Today all apps and software, no matter how benign they appear, are designed to maximize data collection. ... An economic order founded on the secret massive-scale extraction of human data assumes the destruction of privacy as a nonnegotiable condition of its business operations. With privacy out of the way, ill-gotten human data are concentrated within private corporations, where they are claimed as corporate assets to be deployed at will. The social effect is a new form of inequality, reflected in the colossal asymmetry between what these companies know about us and what we know about them. The sheer size of this knowledge gap is conveyed in a leaked 2018 Facebook document, which described its artificial intelligence hub, ingesting trillions of behavioral data points every day and producing six million behavioral predictions each second. ... Next, these human data are weaponized as targeting algorithms, engineered to maximize extraction and aimed back at their unsuspecting human sources to increase engagement. Targeting mechanisms change real life, sometimes with grave consequences. ... Anger is rewarded or ignored. ... We can’t fix all our problems at once, but we won’t fix any of them, ever, unless we reclaim the sanctity of information integrity and trustworthy communications. The abdication of our information and communication spaces to surveillance capitalism has become the meta-crisis of every republic, because it obstructs solutions to all other crises. Neither Google, nor Facebook, nor any other corporate actor in this new economic order set out to destroy society, any more than the fossil fuel industry set out to destroy the earth. But like global warming, the tech giants and their fellow travelers have been willing to treat their destructive effects on people and society as collateral damage — the unfortunate but unavoidable byproduct of perfectly legal economic operations that have produced some of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the history of capitalism. ... If the ideal of human self-governance is to survive the digital century, then all solutions point to one solution: a democratic counterrevolution. ... No secret extraction means no illegitimate concentrations of knowledge about people. No concentrations of knowledge means no targeting algorithms. No targeting means that corporations can no longer control and curate information flows and social speech or shape human behavior to favor their interests. Regulating extraction would eliminate the surveillance dividend and with it the financial incentives for surveillance. While liberal democracies have begun to engage with the challenges of regulating today’s privately owned information spaces, the sober truth is that we need lawmakers ready to engage in a once-a-century exploration of far more basic questions: How should we structure and govern information, connection and communication in a democratic digital century? What new charters of rights, legislative frameworks and institutions are required to ensure that data collection and use serve the genuine needs of individuals and society? What measures will protect citizens from unaccountable power over information, whether it is wielded by private companies or governments? Liberal democracies should take the lead because they have the power and legitimacy to do so. But they should know that their allies and collaborators include the people of every society struggling against a dystopian future."
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