The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

March 6, 2016


Originally published in; Frankfurter Allgemeine; Feuilleton

Governmental control is nothing compared to what Google is up to. The company is creating a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation we should call surveillance capitalism. Is there nothing we can do?surveillance capitalism

Google surpassed Apple as the world’s most highly valued company in January for the first time since 2010.  (Back then each company was worth less than 200 billion. Now each is valued at well over 500 billion.)  WhileGoogle’s new lead lasted only a few days, the company’s success has implications for everyone who lives within the reach of the Internet. Why? Because Google is ground zero for a wholly new subspecies of capitalism in which profits derive from the unilateral surveillance and modification of human behavior.  This is a new surveillance capitalism that is unimaginable outside the inscrutable high velocity circuits of Google’s digital universe, whose signature feature is the Internet and its successors.  While the world is riveted by the showdown between Apple and the FBI, the real truth is that the surveillance capabilities being developed by surveillance capitalists are the envy of every state security agency.  What are the secrets of this new capitalism, how do they produce such staggering wealth, and how can we protect ourselves from its invasive power?

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Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor, Emerita, Harvard Business School. This essay was written for a 2016 address at Green Templeton College, Oxford. Her forthcoming book is Master or Slave: The Fight for the Soul of Our Information Civilization, to be published by Eichborn in Germany and Public Affairs in the U.S.

3 Responses to “The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism”

  1. howardat58 Says:

    Not convinced.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Somewhat hyperbolic perhaps Howard? I’ll reply later when I’ve had time to reread on reflection. Cheers.


  3. Howard, without knowing which aspect(s) you found unconvincing, I’d offer the following jumble of observations;

    *Yes, somewhat hyperbolic but perhaps we need to be shaken from our somnolence with regards to that which we have so freely & uncritically given up?
    *Article descends into academic-existential analysis which loses me a little.
    *She proposes regulatory responses which are problematical?
    *I feel she correctly identifies the nexus between state & corporate surveillance and how individual privacy is being steamrollered by twin juggernauts.

    Other Perspectives by way of consideration;
    *Apple Vs FBI probably represents the first major battle of Crypto-Wars 2.0. (Crypto-War 1.0 occuring in the 90’s with the liberation of export grade cryptography into the public sphere.)
    *The observation that Apple has a business/marketing interest in making its products secure. Google, Facebook, social media in general – o.t.o.h, share little such inclination other than perhaps securing user data & comm’s from *external* competitors ie; external privacy but full intra-application disclosure. (Check which Corp’s have filed amici curiae in support of Apple Vs FBI…)
    *It’s well documented that FBI/NSA have requested social media algorithms for I.D of dissension/’terrorism’.
    *Yesterday, we read a report that geo-location data has been used to potentially unmask the artist known as ‘Banksy’ As if this ability to use metadata as a fine discriminator is somehow surprising… when Google know your minute x minute daily activities, thoughts and most intimate inclinations… and the director of NSA says “we kill people based on metadata.”
    *20 Years ago we were having privacy discussions as to whether or not Gov. Dept’s. should be allowed to share data. How quaint.
    *All these privacy erosions are sold as being in interest of the ‘greater good’ but the balance is never debated.

    Gov. now assumes pejorative moral influence over our very health and well-being. And most ppl are superficially ok with that. I however, think we have begun rapid descent of a slippery slope.

    & so it goes…


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