The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the Frontier of Power

“Book Review

After putting this book down, it feels like the curtain has been pulled back and all of the background machinations of my magic technology have been revealed. I knew that companies were harvesting my data but I didn’t know the extent of the whole system. Surveillance capitalism is the shadow economy running over-top of our whole world without many of us even knowing about it. If you ever use a computer, the internet, or a smart phone you are a cog in this machine. Companies are using our interactions with technology as the raw behavioral data that is silently being collected, analyzed, repackaged, and then sold to 3rd parties. 3rd parties are very interested in these data predictions because they offer insight into our future actions, feelings, what we might buy, who we might vote for.

The book begins by first examining the history of surveillance capitalism. Where did this all start? It all started with Google. They made the amazing search engine Google. They used feedback from searches to improve their product. Soon they realized they (A) had to start making profit, (B) were harvesting a lot more data that they weren’t utilizing. Around this time 9/11 happened which changed the government’s attitude towards data collection of it’s citizens. It now wanted to know everything and nothing was sacred. The permission to let these companies become the informational arm of the government was all under the guise of ‘national security’.

… serving the genuine needs of people is less lucrative, and therefore less important, than selling predictions of their behavior. Google discovered that we are less valuable than others' bets on our future behavior. This changed everything.

This book analyzes the situation from all angles, using psychology, history, statistics, and economic theory to show what capitalism was, and how it evolved to become the more terrifying ‘surveillance capitalism’ monster.

“”…surveillance capitalism’s unusual products manage to be derived from our behavior while remaining indifferent to our behavior. Its products are about predicting us, without actually caring what we do or what is done to us.”"

Once Google started doing this, and profiting handsomely from it, then other companies started getting in on the action. Companies dreamed up new, inventive ways to harvest data to train their ‘machine intelligence’. To make these systems ‘smart’, they need to eat, lots, and lots of raw data.

The extraction imperative demands that everything be possessed. In this new context, goods and services are merely surveillance-bound supply routes. It’s not the car; it’s the behavioral data from driving the car. It’s not the map; it’s the behavioral data from interacting with the map.

Towards the end of the book it starts looking at how this is affecting our children. Generation Z is the first generation who is growing up without knowing what life was like before Google, and Facebook. They have to navigate a whole slew of different minefields than you or I had to while growing up. Adolescent

Legal scholar, Frank Pasquale on Google: ““The decisions at Googleplex are made behind closed doors…the power to include, exclude, and rank is the power to ensure which public impressions become permanent and which remain fleeting… Despite their claims of objectivity and neutrality, they are constantly making value-laden, controversial decisions. They help create the world they claim to merely ‘show’ us.””

I have already started the long and difficult road of trying to escape these companies who abuse our human dignity and try to squeeze money from it. It’s very hard to do it alone. We need democracies to start making data privacy laws to help the individual. The right to digital privacy needs to be enshrined as a human right. This is a societal problem. This is global. These companies slipped under the radar by offering us these convenient devices that seemed like magic. The only real magic at play was how easily we were duped by these corporations. They operate in the shadows and I’m so thankful for this incredibly detailed, and exciting book. I hope it throws more light onto the woeful state of things and opens a few more people’s eyes. There is hope for the future, if we can take back control of these machines, these corporations, and our human experience.

In 1981, the author once sat down with a young paper mill owner who asked:

Are we all going to be working for a smart machine, or will we have smart people around the machine?

Read this book. We owe it to ourselves, and to our children. This is a book of our times. Totalitarianism was the greatest threat to democracy in our parents' generation, now surveillance capitalism is ours.

My Rating: ★★★★★ My 2019 Reading Challenge: Book #12

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