An argument that Google and other internet-based firms are creating a new form of capitalism based on the monetizing of human experience.
“Digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends,” writes Zuboff (Business Administration/Harvard Business School; In The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, 1988). In a 2014 essay, the author first described the “profoundly undemocratic social force” she calls surveillance capitalism. In this exhaustive, often repetitive elaboration, the author defines the concept as “a new market form that claims human experience as a free source of raw material for hidden commercial practices.” Later in the book, she elaborates: “Every casual search, like, and click [becomes] an asset to be tracked, parsed, and monetized by some company.” This relentless search for and use of personal data is not happenstance or an inevitable result of digital technology. Rather, it is a “calculated,” little-noticed pursuit by commercial interests—acting under the guise of a utopian vision for the internet—to create “prediction products” that “anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later” and are traded in the marketplace. Invented by Google, adopted by Facebook and Microsoft, and with evidence that Amazon engages in it, the “unprecedented” market form is poised to become the “dominant” shape of capitalism, abrogating “the peoples’ right to a human future.” The shift from “serving users to surveilling them” occurred at a time of diminished government oversight and regulation and the post–9/11 emphasis on security over privacy. Based on research and interviews, the author thoughtfully examines the economic and philosophical implications of surveillance capitalism; warns that our children, in their ceaseless quest for connectivity, are harbingers of what lies ahead; and urges public outrage over the theft of our humanity. Other topics include Pokémon Go and behaviorist B.F. Skinner and his acolytes.
A big, sprawling, and alarming case for “the darkening of the digital dream.” This will appeal to specialists; general readers will wish it were much shorter.