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Digital Literacy and AI

Defining Surveillance Capitalism

What is Surveillance Capitalism?

According to Harvard professor, Shoshana Zuboff, surveillance capitalism aims to predict and modify human behavior as a means to produce revenue and control. The purpose and power of surveillance capitalism is not only knowing our behavior but also using that information to manipulate it for profit at a large scale.

Unlike traditional capitalism, which feeds on labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on human experience and behavior. Surveillance capitalists monopolizes this information (our private human experience) by acquiring, condensing, aggregating, analyzing, and packaging data into behavioral surplus to be traded and sold for future behavioral markets. 

Why is it important?

In today's digital climate, information is seen as the supreme currency. Companies claim this currency (an individual's private human experience) as their own source of raw material (2019). This extraction process is a one-way transaction and not a consensual relationship, because it lacks dialogue and is often unknown to one party, the user. Zuboff compares this transactional relationship with that of the industrial era, saying that just as the industrial civilization flourished at the expense of nature and now threatens to cost us the Earth, the information civilization will grow at the expense of human nature and will threaten to cost us our humanity (2019, pp. 11-12). 

Surveillance capitalism monopolizes not only on our information, but also on the fragile relationship between our public and private spaces. This extraction and manipulation of information disregards social norms and invalidates the rights associated with our individual autonomy.

Source: Zuboff, S. (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

In this video, Harvard professor Shosana Zuboff explains surveillance capitalism and why it is imperative we know what it is and how it effects our right to freedom and autonomy.