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P1: Preliminary Report


The words Surveillance Capitalism were first used in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff.


Karl Marx’s old view of capitalism was described “as a vampire that feeds on labor”, but with an unexpected change. Unlike what the basic definition of capitalism is, Surveillance Capitalism embodies a new type of privacy claim.

Big corporations are constantly collecting our data and using what they collect to predict our behavior and purchase and shape their next moves off of this. Leading corporations in surveillance capitalism are Google and Facebook, not only through the items we ourselves post but any other actions we have while on their websites. Third-party brokers sell our data, data we give them for free- which online companies use to personalize our online experience. These third-party brokers make money on every concept that can be pushed onto us by an advertisement, and even if only half of the people seeing the advertisements actually purchase the items, this is millions of more sales than they would have bought items without these personalized Ad experiences.

Something that goes hand-in-hand with surveillance capitalism is epistemic inequality, and how unethical it is that we have no say- or even any knowledge of what these corporations know about us. Epistemic Inequality has always existed, but as the world shifts more and more online, it has gotten stronger. Online corporations track and record all they can of us, whether this is our location, our communication with each other, our purchases or interests in products, our searches, or our biometric information. Much like Newton’s “Laws of Motion”, we can use this metaphor to also describe industrial capitalism. These “laws” that consumerism and capitalism follow have led to, among other things, competitive production, profit maximization, productivity, and growth.  These underlying forces also currently operate in the environment of a new logic of accumulation, which Google honed in their early years;  its own sui generis laws of motion.

Google created the first extremely profitable markets known as online targeted advertising, based on their calculations of how online users interact on the search engine and its websites. As a New York Times article states: “Between 2000, when the new economic logic was just emerging, and 2004, when the company went public, revenues increased by 3,590 percent.” This number represents something called the “surveillance dividend.” What it should really be named is the “privacy dividend” since the revenues from this share come from something that could almost be described as hacking into consumers’ brains. The government has also been prevalent with surveillance and how they collect individuals’ information and data.

Throughout U.S history, there has always been the rumor of the government collecting people’s information and this came ahead in 2013. Edward Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant leaked information on how the government can illegally seize millions of individuals’ records, and they have been hiding that for years. He also explains that NSA could collect personal data from phones, laptops, search history, chatrooms, and social media, and with all this information, what they would call the “pattern of life” would create detailed profiles for each target. There have been acts such as the U.S Patriot Act, that are in place to prevent terrorism by allowing the government to use surveillance, however, it brings up the question if the government is using surveillance for other reasons? The government has voted against protecting people’s personal information with Senate in 2020 voting not to protect Americans search history data and secret and warrantless surveillance by law enforcement. Is it right for the government to search and spy on people who are not breaking any laws without any real reason to search? With the rising usage of people using the internet, it has been easier than ever to collect data online. Companies have been working with the government as surveillance intermediaries to operate as front posts for U.S government agencies giving away your personal information and data. Government surveillance has been trending toward AI and machine learning and this will become a big factor in how the government process and collect information.