Surveillance Capitalism

Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

A large portion of the software side of our information technology infrastructure is provided free to the end users. This includes web search, email, social media, transportation information, and much more. Nevertheless, the corporations that provide this are often enormously profitable. The business model involves customized advertising and behavior manipulation, powered by intensive gathering and cross-correlation of personal information.

But at which cost comes this business model for society?

In order to gather data and influence the user, the service providers have an interest in users spending as much time as possible on the platforms. The loss of privacy is only one of the alarming societal results. In addition, consumerism is fueled which is incompatible with sustainability. Further more, these companies enhance the concentration of wealth and power in the hand of a few and thereby destabilize society. Last but not least the manipulatory capacity in the political realm is a tragedy for democracy. This is shown for example by the Cambridge Analytica Files.
Shoshana Zuboff describes this phenomenon as “Surveillance Capitalism“ [Link].

How could alternatives look like?

Unfortunately it turns out that the problem does not simply solve itself with other business models. In this paper we discuss partial solutions and criteria for comprehensive solutions. The fundamental element is the strengthening of individual sovereignty over their personal data and their online experience.
The paper was born out of the fruitful discussions in the SEED-network.
To continue the discussion of possible solutions, we are organizing an ECSCW-Panel in June titled “Surveillance Capitalism: Data Driven Business Models, their Societal Impact and the Role of Academic Communities” and a CHI 2020 Panel titled “SurveillanceCapitalism@CHI: Civil Conversation around a Difficult Topic”.
Furthermore, on July 2-3, the Hertie School’s Centre for Digital Governance will host an online workshop titled “Tech Companies and the Public Interest – Comparing European and North-American Models for Regulating Social Media Platforms”.

Related Publications

The High Cost of Free Services: Problems with Surveillance Capitalism and Possible Alternatives for IT Infrastructure [Link].
Toward Emancipatory Currencies: A Critique of Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency and Ideas for Alternatives[Link].
Surveillance Capitalism: Data Driven Business Models, their Societal Impact and the Role of Academic Communities[Link].
SurveillanceCapitalism@CHI: Civil Conversation around a Difficult Topic[Link].