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Do Tech companies want to control every aspect of what we do, for profit?

Have we reached the era of “surveillance capitalism”?

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Have we reached the Big Brother’s era of capitalism? According to many experts, the rise of social media and data analytics have given birth to a new kind of economy called “surveillance capitalism”.

With targeted ads on Facebook and the near-death of privacy, consumers are giving away precious data on their consuming habits.

While personalized 3D ads still belong to the realm of fiction – such as in Black Mirror, artificial intelligence is on its way to anticipate all of our needs.

However, innovation is going faster than regulation. Experts warn on the lack of legislation regarding marketing research, data analytics and on data violation.

Consumers are “automated”

In her last book, Shoshana Zuboff explains that “surveillance capitalism” is the most ground-breaking revolution that humanity has ever lived since 1439 Guthenberg’s invention of printing.

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In a recent op-ed published in The Guardian, the writer explains the definition of surveillance capitalism. “It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behavior of those users in astonishing detail – often without their explicit consent”.

 

Social media and economy expert unfolds a new theory on how “behavioral future markets” take “bets” on consumers’ future behaviors.

As a result, these predictions and probabilities feed “manufacturing processes known as a ‘machine intelligence'”, which helps establishing profiles of users in a much more efficient way than manual surveys – and way faster, too.

According to Zuboff,  “digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers and the watched.”

Sheryl Sandberg, a game changer

Google first started breaching basic copyright laws by digitalizing every book every printed without paying any royalties, as well as houses, streets without asking any landlord’s permission.

Its technologies and external communication being opaque, it was hard for any legislation to catch up with its pace. In 2017, the Internet giant faced a €2.4 billion fine in the European Union as it used AdSense, for its “abuse of its internet search monopoly in advertising its own e-commerce service”. However, laws protecting users are still inexistent.

Read on Alvexo: “What Just Happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?”

As Zuboff explains, as Facebook reached its two billions users, CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired Google’s Sheryl Sandberg to copy the model in 2008. On that year, Facebook starting launching “beacons”, which allowed it to track and report online activities and published it other users without the knowing.

Violating users’ privacy

As Messenger launched, Facebook started eavesdropping on its users activities – even while being offline, by using vocal recognition while tracking key words from their smartphones’ microphone.

While regulations are still pending, a few infamous examples have already risen, from Cambridge Analytica’s scandal to China setting up a “social media credit score”, very similar to a Black Mirror’s episode, where every little action of a user is ranked and used in everyday’s life.

As digital tools were originally designed to connect users, they are now aimed to monetize users’ behaviors. Regulations must to be voted to protect each and everyone’s right to privacy.

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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.