Corporations have created a new kind of marketplace out of our private human experiences. That is the conclusion of an explosive new book that argues big tech platforms like Facebook and Google are elephant poachers, and our personal data is ivory tusks. Author Shoshana Zuboff writes in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power”: “At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. “Facebook planned to spy on Android phone users, internal emails reveal.” That’s a headline in Computer Weekly. “You Give Apps Personal Sensitive Information. Then They Tell Facebook.” That’s from The Wall Street Journal. Those are just two of the headlines this past week. This comes as a new report in Britain calls Facebook “digital gangsters.”
We end today’s show looking at how corporations have created a new kind of marketplace out of our private human experiences. This is the focus of an explosive new book that argues big tech platforms like Facebook and Google are elephant poachers, and our personal data is ivory tusks. The book is titled The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Its author, Shoshana Zuboff. She writes, quote, “At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.” Shoshana Zuboff is professor emerita at Harvard Business School. She joins us now for the rest of the hour.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: Thank you so much, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us.
SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: Thank you. It’s a privilege.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, well, let’s start at the beginning. Define “surveillance capitalism.”
SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: Surveillance capitalism departs in many ways from the history of market capitalism, but in a fundamental way it is continuous with that history. We know that capitalism has evolved by taking things that live outside of the market, bringing them into the market dynamic, transforming them into commodities that can be sold and purchased. So, famously, industrial capitalism claims nature for the market; it is reborn as real estate, as land that can be sold and purchased. It claims work for the market, reborn as labor that can be sold and purchased.
So, surveillance capitalism continues this tradition, but with that dark twist. In our time, surveillance capitalism claims private human experience for the market dynamic as a free source of raw material that is translated into behavioral data. These data are then combined with advanced computational abilities to create predictions—predictions of what we will do, predictions of our behavior, predictions of what we will do now, soon and later. And these predictions are then sold to business customers in a new kind of marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.
This was first invented in the context of online targeted advertising at Google back in 2000, 2001, in the teeth of financial emergency during the dotcom bust. But the same economic logic has now traveled not only from Google to Facebook and throughout the tech sector, but now throughout the normal economy into virtually every economic sector.
AMY GOODMAN: So, comment on these last few headlines, just of the last week. I mean, for example, the report in Britain that calls Facebook “digital gangsters.”
SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: Well, since just about a year ago now—we’re coming up on the 1-year anniversary of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. One of the consequences of those revelations is not only that a lot of us all around the world have been put on alert that all is not well in the digital realm—that’s one thing—but a second thing is that, at least in the U.K., the government has taken this very, very seriously. And there’s been a parliamentary committee investigating Facebook. This committee was able to get leaked documents, secret documents, from Facebook that had not been reviewed by the public. And just last week, they issued their 108-page report. It’s very powerful, very damning. And among other things, they refer to Facebook as behaving like “digital gangsters,” because they have understood that Facebook has been essentially stealing—in other words, as I’ve described, illegitimately taking—our private human experience for its production processes that create these prediction products, which is what they sell and how they make money.
The key thing that I want our viewers to know is that surveillance capitalism doesn’t stop at Facebook. And right now, it’s a hugely positive development that we are looking at Facebook with this kind of scrutiny and perhaps moving to finally regulate this corporation. But that is the beginning, not the end, of our challenge. Surveillance capitalism is an economic logic that includes, but moves far beyond, Facebook at this point in time. And so, we are going to need the social response that addresses, interrupts and outlaws this new economic logic, not just a single company or not just a couple of companies…Read More at