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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

Ralph has an absolutely fascinating talk with Harvard Business School professor, Shoshana Zuboff, about how Google, Facebook and other digital companies make money by watching every move you make, and how it can be stopped.

Professor Shoshana Zuboff was one of the first tenured women at the Harvard Business School.  She was also a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Her career has been devoted to the study of the rise of the digital, its individual, organizational, and social consequences, and its relationship to the history and future of capitalism. The author of many books and papers on the subject of modern corporate capitalism, Professor Zuboff’s latest is entitled The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.” 

From Professor Shoshana Zuboff, author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

“All of us click on this little ‘I agree’ box in a cynical way, because we know we have no choice.”

“We are being forced into the arms of a unique economic logic that thrives on the unilateral claiming of our experience for its behavioral data to create predictions about our behavior that it sells to business customers. That’s how it makes its money.”

“I believe we have an opportunity as citizens to interrupt and outlaw Surveillance Capitalism as the dominant economic logic.”

“We’ve heard people like Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google say, ‘If you have something to hide, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.’ And my response to that is ‘Anyone who has nothing to hide is nothing.’

“The thing that we’ve got to get out in front of now is the economic logic itself, that it is illegitimate to take people’s experience and turn it into data.”

“Our society knows how to tame raw capitalism. We’ve done it in the Gilded Age, in the Depression. We’ve done it in the post-war years where we institutionalized collective bargaining and living wage and so many laws from child labor, safety regulation, so many laws that tethered the raw excesses of industrial capitalism to the well being of people and society and democracy. Our societies know how to do this. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.”

9 Comments

  1. Bruce K. says:

    “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” “The Fight for a Human
    Future at the New Frontier of Power” … sounds really informative.

    Great. What is not so great is the glaring blindspot the ??? I don’t
    know what to call it, I’ll just say “The Left” has in terms of building
    consensus and taking action. Ralph pointed it out. It is not enough
    to understand what happened 10 years ago, or 5 years ago, what
    needs to be imagined and understood is what is about to hit us
    in the future, and what capabilities tech opens up and for whom?

    So many good and important books and ideas, but the paradigm
    of writing books to bring about change is dead. You guys who
    write these books are as irrelevant as the commercial drivers,
    you just don’t know it because you get paid for your efforts, but
    they do not have the same effect they use to because they do
    not scale.

    You guys brought up any number of good books and dutiful
    authors that study and figure out what the trends we are seeing
    mean and will lead to, but I’ve never heard any author or books
    that mentions what good these books or ideas are able to do.
    How does change or political consensus translate from an
    academic book to the voting booth? I don’t think it does.

    Maybe the reason those marginal political floaters in our system
    that move back and forth mindlessly in the wind, like from Bernie to
    Trump, and hopefully back – is they are not academics. They are
    not people like you have on your show, and on virtually all shows
    that all know what each other are talking about. And even you guys
    cannot keep up with all the ideas or suggestions. There must be
    a technological infrastructure created to educate and build consensus
    to promote measurable good ideas and “swipe-left” on the bad ones
    to drop them.

    The thing that makes an impression is online news, and videos,
    AM Radio, the Media, and these books, ideas and facts simply do
    not scale or are completely ineffective at bringing any focus or
    coherence to anyone, however brilliant they are.

    What average citizen can remember 10 authors names of people they
    might have seen on the news or heard on the radio or internet. Very few,
    especially after what seems interesting or possible to someone gets
    attacked, discounted, or insulting in most cases by the constant noise
    creating people paid for ultimately by these corporations and business
    people – and actually, we don’t know who? Where does all this supposed
    ineffective advertising really come from?

    ( Has anyone ever investigated the advertising industry as a vehicle for
    laundering money? )

    I have read in the last 2 years any number of really important political
    books, and that is how I realize that no one else I can talk with, or very
    few actually read these books, certainly not the massive numbers of
    people indoctrinated by right-wing media every day, and those who
    see right-wing comments all over the Internet, 50% of which some say
    are automated computational propaganda from some source.

    Those sane people who might be remaining and see this is wrong but
    have no way to find each other, communicate and no common language
    as has been manufactured by the Right-Wing and their think tanks over
    the last 50 years or so. Do politicians listen to the public? Letters,
    phone called, emails? I don’t see it … case in point was the primary
    in North Carolina mentioned in Michael Moore’s last movie where
    it was mentioned that Bernie Sanders won every country in the state,
    yet Hillary got all the votes.

    Imagine an AI with the simple programming to go around and disrupt
    conversations and inject lies or discord into every online discussion
    that takes place … this is one step farther than Southern Plantation
    Slavery where slaves could not gather in groups of more than 3. This
    is unAmerican and unConstitutional, — and mainstream policy in our
    system and media, where ideas they do not like are associated with
    people who are cast as unlikeable – a billion times a day throughout
    all of our lives.

    These companies, and the murky economy powers, or political powers
    behind them are at war with the American people, OR if they are not
    they are putting in place a weapon that can be wielded outside of
    anyone’s view or power to identify or regulate, and we have a majority
    of our own government supporting this because they also have been
    brainwashed to not to really think about this.

    If some conscientious and patriotic legislator tried to stand up to this
    system they will lose the support necessary to survive, both in the political
    system, but possibly in their lives or careers. This is system is maybe
    not as oppressive , but just as rigid on Americans as the Taliban was on
    the people of Afghanistan and we went around the world to combat
    that, but somehow this problem cannot even be talked about or
    acknowledged.

    With increasing technology and information the group needed to control
    and shut down everyone else gets smaller every year … and nothing
    has happened or even shown any sign of mitigating since this all began
    to converge are the turn of the century.

    – –

    By the way, let me express how distracting it is from your show to
    constantly be hearing beeps and chimes and alerts going off in the
    audio background of your discussion. I cannot tell what it is or where
    it is coming from in a lot of cases I think it is something from my phone,
    radio or computer.

    • mlm says:

      “So many good and important books and ideas, but the paradigm
      of writing books to bring about change is dead. You guys who
      write these books are as irrelevant as the commercial drivers,”

      Agree, but only in that the expert writers are carefully filed away in institutions of higher Obscurity, paid well enuf & ignored

  2. Bruce K. says:

    One thing is that this new NATIONALISM is a ploy. The new NATIONALISM is the nationalism of the rich elite, who are using a fake-NATIONALIST narrative to keep people who otherwise would be defecting in the establishment status quo by making them think they are still relevant … like the coal miners of Appalachia, or white people in general. Nation “connectedness” is being outsourced. Many Americans may think they are Americans, but more and more are being disenfranchised even as the sweet talk and pictures in the media are painted to make them think otherwise.

    The new elite that is taking everything over the land and resources of all country, and waving aside the people, with money they get from basically equating everyone to the lowest worker in the world, and they have no regard for people anywhere they are located in the world … unless by strict law they have to. One possible narrative of change might be to stop doing any business with countries without strict human rights laws that are backed up by solid evidence and not just lies like the Saudis for example.

    That is basically what it is going to take, so all this talk needs to lead to specific legislation, as they have already tried in Europe. What is useful is not just books that few can read, but legislation, results and proposals for legislation in American to accomplish the same things.

  3. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    We never tamed capitalism, that is a liberal fantasy. The lesson to be learned from the repeal of the New Deal and corporate coup started in the late ’70s is that capitalism cannot be tamed. Why? Because inexorably contained within the system itself are the tools to empower the few. As long as you leave the system of exploitation and extraction of labor value to enrich the employer class at the expense of employees (Capitalism), you give them the incentive and the POWER to undo the very reforms intended to curb that power. We can’t afford yet another cycle of crisis, regulation, crisis, war, crisis, and deregulation. The world ecosystem simply can’t handle it this time. We’ve reached a breaking point and it’s time to move beyond capitalism to a better system.

    And I’m not quite so optimistic about that idea that we’ll just eventually get mad enough to reign in corporate surveillance. It’s entirely possible that the power of control that electronic mass surveillance has given to capitalists and the state could give rise to, rather than a democratic breakthrough to socialism as we move beyond capitalism, a mutation of capitalism into some form of neo-feudalism where corporations and creditors own everything and extract rent from people for the rights to use them, the same as lord and serf relations in the middle ages.

    Finally, it continues to perplex me how Ralph can be so concerned about the internet as a tool of mass surveillance while simultaneously hold such bigotry towards those of us who make attempts to protect ourselves and others through anonymous communication.

    • Skro35 says:

      Afdal, Ralph responded to the first part of your comment in this week’s program headlined “Doctors Opposing Circumcision.” Thanks for listening..

  4. Jerry G Lee says:

    Pls add me to free email

  5. Stephanie Hay says:

    This is something that had to be discussed and vigorously debated, 2 decades ago. It’s too late. This grotesque behavior has been normalized.

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