The Rise of Surveillance Capitalism

Society is being controlled by their digital experience, and this is how it happened

The digital age has given rise to sophisticated technology that has raced beyond my understanding, fascinating me daily, but it has reached a level of discomfort that has become concerning.

Corporations have gone beyond just trying to understand their consumer; their goal--predict and condition our behavior through data analysis, and profit. It all began in the early 2000s when Google realized they could discover more about their consumer through specific keywords used and click patterns. They quickly discovered they could go beyond this level of collection and analyze web browsing history, inferring interests.

These practices progressed exponentially.

In 2008, Sheryl Sandberg moved from Google to Facebook. The social networking site then began to transition to advertising giant, collecting personal information about their users such as interests, pictures, locations, and more. Never before had corporation collected so much behavioral information from their users. Others followed suit. Now, you can’t visit a site without being inundated with ads, testimonials from influencers, or bids for information about you.

Purchasing Decisions and Emotion

Marketers understand decisions are largely driven by emotion.  Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman has found that 95% of our purchase decisions are subconscious. Researchers have been conducting research on the topic for years--notably neuroscience marketing research. Neuroscience marketing helps companies adapt their brand to better influence consumers on a psychological level. Corporations recruit test subjects and conduct brain scans, focusing on emotional triggers to certain stimuli

The data collected from consumers is analyzed and entered into fancy algorithms designed create ads and content topics that spark an emotional reaction.

Putting it All Together

The digital age has brought rise to the 24 hour news cycle, social media, apps, giving more opportunity for corporations to advertise, but also to increase data collection.  Millions of people use each of these regularly every single day. What better way for a corporation to increase profits then to utilize these platforms to collect data on potential consumers and advertise in a way that attracts those consumers most effectively?

Today, it is difficult to use any type of digital device and not provide personal information about health, habits, and interests. They have been designed in this way, to obtain as much information about consumers as possible. For example, ProPublica recently reported that breathing machines purchased by people with sleep apnea are secretly sending usage data to health insurers, where the information can be used to justify reduced insurance payments.

Fitbits and apple watches track your location and store health information, Alexa listens to personal conversations and keeps checklists. Even the Roomba stores floor plans. Smart products have become a tool to gather personal information and invade your privacy.

Or, better yet, manipulate.

Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School, coined the term. She defines Surveillance Capitalism as, “...the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. These data are then computed and packaged as prediction products and sold into behavioral futures markets — business customers with a commercial interest in knowing what we will do now, soon, and later.

Sounds like something straight from a fiction novel? Well, it's not so much fiction anymore.

Now big tech is under fire for “attention hacking.” They have engineered their site, product, or app to make you addicted--emojis, followers, likes, types of advertisements and posts, and notifications. At this point, algorithms have been created to understand your data and manipulate you to do exactly what the corporation wants you to do--stay on their site, read their advertisements, and buy something.

How did we miss this?

  • Because of the convenience the products, sites, and apps offer.

  • In the name of progress.

  • Perceived protection.

This type of surveillance and control is a threat to our freedom and our privacy. Without our knowledge, our personal information is being shared corporation to corporation in the name of profit. They are monetizing our behaviors, and we are none the wiser. Until now.

Are you a slave to the digital influence? How much personal information are you sharing, without a thought?  Or, are you a master of your mind?