Privacy and Capitalism at Odds

In light of postmodernity, we face a different set of challenges than that of the past. As Erik Erikson states, those in the past struggled with being limited by what they knew they could be. Whilst in modern times because of the infinite choices we have, people struggle with deciding what to do and believe. The process of individualization has presented us with hundreds of choices. It also brought a mountain of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety with it. It was this mentality that summoned the internet, not innovation. Such burden of modernity turned us toward empowering knowledge-rich recourses found in digital tech. Which, as Dr Shoshana Zuboff states, allowed us to amplify our voices and forge our own chosen patterns of connections, to be the author of our own life. However, the rise of vulgar capitalism (neoliberalism) commercialized the internet world.

Dr Zuboff used the term surveillance capitalism to describe the commercialization of the web. She defines it as a new economic order that claims human experience as free raw materials for hidden commercial practices of extraction productions and sales. As we integrate technology into our life, more data is extracted about us. With such large sets of data, tech companies use machine learning to predict the behavior of their users. This is then used for targeted ads that guarantee a result and influence on the mind of its users. Imagine the number and types of data you provide to tech corporations daily. From the phone that knows your facial features, your location at all times and even your spending; search engines and social media apps that know what you are feeling and doing and watches that you know your heart rate. Imagine what they can do with the sheer volume of data and how they can influence individuals to purchase products by placing ads at specific frames.

We have seen the power of such technology recently in two events. Firstly, we’ve seen it with the Cambridge Analytica scandal whereby Facebook data was used to influence the election. They built models to exploit people’s fears and stresses by bombarding them with targeted ads and pop-ups. Such technologies were used to influence public opinion. They have carried two main successful campaigns; Brexit and Trump election. Although the corporation closed its operation in 2018, it doesn’t mean that the age of behavioral modification is over. Another example is Pokémon Go, which got people running all over the city trying to find Pokémon’s. This was then used to herd people to Macdonald’s, Starbucks and other sponsors.   

Opposed to what some might argue, we are not the product; the targeted ads that influence what we think and, ultimately, how we behave are the product. We are just the raw material for such apparatus, which we willingly consent to by accepting those terms of service agreement that scholar points are purposely extremely lengthy and complex. It was calculated in 2008 that it would take 76 full 24-hour days to read the agreement, which is completely absurd. We are marching through unprecedented times requiring creative laws that restrict how and the extent in which information technologies can use our data.