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Surveillance Capitalism (wikipedia.org)
71 points by bottle2 on April 12, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

For a topic as well-covered as this (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...) it would be better to submit something more specific than a Wikipedia article.

Wikipedia submissions are good for extremely obscure things.

My issue with the term is that governments are, and will ever be more invasive with our private data than private companies. This makes sense: the government will never be held accountable for data hoarding, and in fact kinda needs to hoard data to prosecute tax fraud and ensure law enforcement, but private businesses want to make sure people still use them, even if their users are privacy conscious.

Moreover, a bunch of fully for-profit companies are living off of exclusively selling privacy. Their only reason to exist is protecting their customer's information. Think ProtonMail, Tutanota, TunnelBear, privacy.com, the Mozilla Foundation (to a certain extent), Qwant, DuckDuckGo, and so on and so forth.

I very much preferred the previous term: "Government Surveillance". As some other comments on this page also pointed out, this loss of privacy comes with the benefit of productivity and reduced friction, while government surveillance rarely ever has a positive side to it (except catching criminals, and even so at the expense of non-criminals' privacy).

I forgot to add a very important remark. You can opt out of companies collecting your data by blocking trackers or not using their services. Doing the same to protect your privacy from the government is tax fraud and is considered a crime.

I think we have bigger issues than Facebook knowing what web articles we read, honestly.

Key difference: You elect your government, and if you aren't happy with how they're doing things, you can vote them out. I never voted for Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook or whoever runs Google.

If you aren't happy with Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, etc, you can choose not to be a customer of them. You can't opt out of paying taxes.

I'm not a customer of Google nor Facebook, but they're still tracking me all over the internet.

I'm assuming you're intelligent on account of being able to write a comment and doing so on HN. Have you really never heard of FB's shadow profiles and the like? Are you being wilfully ignorant?

Facebook shadow profiles would suggest otherwise

Capitalism isn't seen as anything bad in most countries after the cold war.

I would prefer the term privacy prostitution or data prostitution. You sell your privacy in exchange for getting "free" search, "free" news, "free" maps, "free" email. Of course such services cannot be free of cost.

Traditionally Germany had a law that you are not allowed to give "gifts" when selling something. So when offering a car they were not allowed to give a "free" grill or something like that. The goal was to protect consumers from intrasparent pricing and unfair business practices. Some market-liberalist politicians abandoned the law many years ago, because consumers are "mature enough" to make their own decisions.

So how many consumers decide to pay for the internet services they use instead of being tracked?

Does paying for a service really mean that the company taking your money stops tracking you?

Not only don't I believe that's ever the case, but when you sign up and pay, they can get some additional details from you that they weren't able to collect on their own.

> So how many consumers decide to pay for the internet services they use instead of being tracked?

Relatively few? Those services are available for people who want to pay for them.

Personally, I use Gmail, Facebook, and a litany of other free services. I'm fine with the exchange.

Are you accusing me of not being mature enough to make this decision?

I use Facebook and Gmail myself. So I am not accusing anybody here. I use containers to isolate my browser sessions, I control my cookies and I somewhat lazily use uMatrix. I don't use an add blocker, because I have a very strong mental add blocker not to buy anything I see on the internet.

So, yes the current model is cheaper for me. Still, I would prefer a world where you pay for what you use without all the tracking and adtech. Selling a lot of useless crap just ruins the planet and makes our life worse in the long term.

> I don't use an add blocker, because I have a very strong mental add blocker not to buy anything I see on the internet.

Ad blocker is never about blocking the ads themselves since five years ago or so. Since then, the point is always to block tracker and fingerprinter scripts in the ads (sometimes these scripts are almost malicious [0]) to reduce the information collected by advertisers (and abusers of the ads system) while browsing the web. I actually miss the plain old banner ads without shenanigans, they need to come back.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20288768

> I actually miss the plain old banner ads without shenanigans, they need to come back.

Of course, once a considerable mass of people started using the internet, these 'plain' browser ads started taking up more screen space than the content itself.

Thankfully Carbon Ads seem to be pretty friendly and non-intrusive (only an image with text is allowed, and I don't think I've seen any GIFs) so I have them whitelisted in UBO.

> I would prefer a world where you pay...

You have that available to you! You can pay for Protonmail or a variety of other email services.

Facebook is a more interesting case, because what you're really asking is for your friends to make the decision to pay instead of be advertised to. They get to have a choice, no? I always feel a little creeped out by sentences that start with "I would prefer a world where..." and end with, basically, everyone does what I want.

For capitalism and free markets to truly work, we need to move the needle more towards perfect information symmetry. People may be mature enough to make that decision, but are they provided the proper information to actually make the decision? Is the gravity of the decision and the implications clearly illustrated to the consumer? There needs to be something more than mindlessly checking a TOS checkbox, a TOS which is likely to be casually updated periodically with nothing more than a simple easily overlooked email saying "something" has changed.

A lot of people seem to think caveat emptor is good for society, but clearly it is consumer hostile.

> Capitalism isn't seen as anything bad in most countries after the cold war.

It’s called “surveillance capitalism” because companies are capitalizing on selling people’s data. It differentiates it from government surveillance.

In a corrupt (nation) state, you could for example buy some information about a person, via the government. Corruptcy is not a black-white definition. There are a lot of shades, wheels in a machine, etc. So a state is not merely corrupt, yes or no.

It’s called “surveillance capitalism" to differentiate it from other forms of capitalism. From this[1] interview with Zuboff:

> So even early on in the theorizing of capitalism it was understood that capitalism takes on different market forms and different eras in the context of different technologies. We’ve had mercantile capitalism, and we’ve had factory capitalism, and mass-production capitalism, and managerial capitalism, financial capitalism. And typically what happens in these new concepts is that modifier, like “mass production,” or in my case “surveillance” capitalism, what that modifier is doing is pinpointing the pivot of value creation in this new market form.

[1] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/02/shoshana-zuboff-q-an...

Surveillance is dangerous, regardless whether it's the KGB, the Stasi or Google who does it.

I’d rather have surveillance capitalism than government surveillance/authoritarianism. The worst thing these guys can do is try to sell me a porn subscription I don’t need. Government surveillance is much worse.

I have two books here, Snow Crash and 1984. Pick your poison.

I'd rather have neither, but I trust my government more than corporations. Corporations will continuously try to break the law, and work around it. The government will perhaps do this as well, and a danger is when they're being pwned by the chains of another government. However, that could also be done by corporations. Crypto AG, was a corporation on a leash by USA/Germany secret services.

Until the govt takes the data. Think ahead.

I can imagine a number of worse things that surveillance capitalists could do, like sell services to the aforementioned governments, or sell your porn subscription to someone else.

And practically, all the data collected by private corporations can be obtained by governments via a subpoena. Until it could be changed, all corporate surveillance is ultimately government surveillance. And there's strong evidence suggests that it occurs at a routine basis. Although some companies like Lavabit showed respectable efforts to be independent and privacy-respecting, on the other hand, some companies actively cooperating with the government, or even oppressive regimes without regards of ethics. So yes, government surveillance is worse than corporate surveillance, but the latter can be seriously harmful in many cases as well.

The term "capitalism" is a mind-trap, vaguely encompassing everything.. carrying in political baggage but adda almost no actual information.

well... in modern parlance perhaps.

but the word has a specific and precise definition despite peoples' ignorance of it.

I listened to the Econtalk episode with Zuboff and Roberts a while ago and I wasn't really sold on her arguments despite actually being personally quite to the left on economic issues usually.

The problem I had with the critique is that the answer to surveillance capitalism always seems to be a return to privacy. Big Business is to big, we need to claim data autonomy,be democratic, and so on.

I think the reason why surveillance capitalism is so successful is because people actually like the automation and transparency. There's always this "wake up sheeple" element to the critique that in my opinion just doesn't address the fact that people simply value the utility they gain out of these tools higher than privacy. I think the better way forward is to align the interests of end consumers and business rather than attempting to retreat back into private spaces.

> people simply value the utility they gain out of these tools higher than privacy.

Exactly. I bet if Facebook offered a paid, ad-free version of their service, 99.9% of people would not use it. The monetary value of Facebook is $0 for most people.

> I think the reason why surveillance capitalism is so successful is because people actually like the automation and transparency.

(I still have to read her book.)

They pay with their privacy, but the payment is not at all transparent. In a way, it already happened: if you upgraded to Windows 10 for free back in the days (before GDPR), you paid with your privacy. If you use Android instead of iOS, you have a cheaper device, but you pay with your privacy. The Apple tax is high in a lot of countries. Too high for the masses. In essence, an iOS device is a status symbol that you paid with money instead of your privacy.

>but you pay with your privacy

And I think that's a perfectly okay choice to make. I don't know why I shouldn't pay with my information, given that I'm aware of it. I'm fine with having an android phone and using the few hundred bucks I save on something else.

My information has some value, and by trading that information to a company that provides me with a service I get something out of it. If I keep data private that I don't mind sharing and instead would say, pay with cash, I'd lose out on getting some value out of my data.

Now I think there is an interesting discussion to be had if users could organise to leverage the value they get out of their data, people have talked about a sort of 'data union' to collectively bargain for a higher return, but in principle I don't mind using my data as a currency.

> despite actually being personally quite to the left on economic issues usually.

in my experience with internet comments people often say this to pander. so: could you elaborate?

In my opinion it's coming from the other side - people have no idea what can be assumed from their data, that they can be manipulated

Manipulated in what ways? Advertisement is manipulation when it's successful. Asking users for a monthly subscription is manipulation when successful. Do we create a pop-up banner for each site and app listing out how data is used, so people can click X on those?

Transparency of data use is important, but simply saying people don't know isn't going to help. It seems like people want to shove transparency of data use in everyone's face until no one uses that software anymore. What is the win in this situation?

why does there need to be a winning situation? I think the entire point when taking the position of privacy is that you should not be using this software because the down stream effect is more damaging than the potential gains from the software.

All that being said if we’ve learned anything from software messages is that no one will ever read them. We trained ourselves 25 years ago blindly dismissing nonsense error messages on windows.

A strawman argument.

Some of us insist you can have these "services" without sacrificing privacy.

You can have these services without sacrificing privacy, but you have to pay a monthly subscription fee. Here's one example:


In addition to that, a further problem is the assumption that "privacy" is somehow inherently what we all want. No one wants to be "spied on" (which is how privacy-advocates portray this isse), but they're somehow OK with all this data being collected about them. Privacy-proponents seem to equate the two and use the former as a scare-tactic; but a lot of people just don't buy it. I don't buy it, and frankly, I'm quite disappointed at the lengths with which we are actively manipulated under the guise of "privacy". E.g. HTTPs-everywhere, DNS over HTTPs, PII protection laws, etc.

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