A Quote from Zuboff

An interesting quote from Surveillance Capitalism:

“IBM “trained” its predictive model by asking the 2,000 users either location-related or product-related questions. The findings showed that personality information predicted the likelihood of responses. People whom the machines rated as moral, trusting, friendly, extroverted, and agreeable tended to respond, compared to low response rates from people rated as cautious and anxious. Many of the characteristics that we try to teach our children and model in our own behavior are simply repurposed as dispossession opportunities for hidden machine processes of rendition. In this new world, paranoia and anxiety function as sources of protection from machine invasion for profit. Must we teach our children to be anxious and suspicious?”

Surveillance Capitalism: Examples

I realize that maybe I don’t give enough examples to make the story that Zuboff tells more vivid.

Imagine asking your best friend over for a cup of coffee and confiding in her that you are worried because your period is 4 days late. Right after the conversation, you start getting ads in your FB feed or in your online searches for prenatal vitamins or baby cribs. It turns out that your Samsung TV that stood quietly in the corner while you chatted with your friend recorded your conversation and sold your worries about a possible pregnancy to advertisers.

Let’s say you are inured to the advertising part of it. I know I am, and it’s a testimony to the effectiveness of surveillance capitalism that I don’t even mind. But here’s a question. Are you sure you want this information to go, say, to your employer? Pregnancy discrimination exists, and you might want to be in control of when this information is shared.

Or imagine you are gay in a region where it’s dangerous to be out of the closet and you confide in somebody. You might not even realize why you lose your job the week after because you’ll believe that there’s no way for your boss to know. It can be very profitable to an employer to be able to get rid of you before you disclose a pregnancy.

Let’s say you confide anything sensitive or secret in a close friend while being in the vicinity of any of these “smart” devices that record without your knowledge. It’s one thing when you simply start getting ads for resort vacations after exclaiming “gosh, I’m so tired of this endless winter!” It’s creepy but it’s not dangerous. But there’s a million ways in which this can get really unpleasant or dangerous to a person.

We are still in the very early stages of this, which is precisely why it makes sense to read and discuss Zuboff’s book. This can still be stopped. There are legislative initiatives undertaken by the still resisting nation-state to stop this. We don’t hear about them because guess who controls our information sources? We are distracted from finding out or concentrating on these crucial, crucial things by ridiculous discussions of Pelosi’s doctored videos or Megan Markle’s inane reaction to Trump’s visit.

We need to start talking about this. We need to start supporting the politicians who engage in real resistance. To my shame, I discovered from this book that I live in the state that offers the strongest resistance so far to Facebook’s facial recognition despoilment. I didn’t even know! But I did know a lot of other utterly irrelevant pseudo-political crap.

I say, let’s talk to people about this. Let’s talk and make this a subject people care about. Let’s talk while our conversations still belong to us.

Databases of Ruin

This is a very important concept that Zuboff develops in Surveillance Capitalism.

We tend to think that the huge amounts of data quelled from gadgets are nameless and can’t be traced back to an individual. But that is completely wrong. The whole point is to do micro-targeting, and you absolutely need to do it on an individual basis.

Among all of the data aggregated about each of us, there is information that can constitutes everybody’s personal “database of ruin.” Everything you ever did after getting connected that you are not proud of or wouldn’t want, say, your employer to know can be easily dredged up and deployed against you. Zuboff uses an obvious example of porn usage but that’s an outdated and meaningless thing. Who cares about porn anymore? The real power lies in knowing that you accessed the Twitter feed of somebody who later was labeled as being beyond the pale. Ah, you are a Nazi because you are accessing Nazi propaganda online! You need to be destroyed for the common good.

Through the deployment of the databases of ruin “our enemies will find it easier to connect us to facts that they can use to blackmail, harass, defame, frame or discriminate against us.”

Once again, this is new because there is no governmental agency behind these databases of ruin. We can’t vote the people who do this out of office. We can’t even organize an armed uprising against them.