All aspects of human life right now seem interconnected. The Internet is probably the biggest phenomenon in human history. The fact that billions of people can connect around the world through a wide range of devices is not something you could have imagined a few years ago. But this global connectivity hasn’t come without a cost. The interconnection between websites and sending information through them is not as secure as you may think. Any person or organization with the necessary infrastructure can literally monitor and track every piece of information sent through such websites with ease.
Some might argue though that this kind of information is simply invaluable. The way humans interact on the Internet is something unique. The information they send to and from could in fact give us additional insights on human behavior and our very own nature in the age of digitization. But even with that, some scholars see it as a form of power. They argue that, in such a highly interconnected world, the ability to extract this data gives you massive control. Some are even calling it Surveillance Capitalism and have blamed it for limiting freedom.
Interestingly though, the core idea behind the development of the Internet was to bring freedom to the world. The Internet was viewed as a tool where anyone could express their views and share their ideas without any fear. But as more government agencies have created tools to monitor it, the freedom of expression online has become more checked than ever before.
The reason, however, why this kind of surveillance is referred to as a new form of capitalism is based on two factors. First, there are serious economic drivers that are pushing the surveillance. We have also seen a number of big organizations profit significantly from surveillance data. Take the case of Google, for example. Over 80% of all the revenue generated by the company comes from ads. These targeted ads are not just out there blindly. They are based on very concrete user data. Google’s ability to extract this data and position it as an essential tool in advertising has led to billions of dollars in profits.
Historically, any kind of broad surveillance has been associated with dictatorships or authoritarian regimes. In East Germany, for example, the secret police were blamed for murders and torture as a result of that kind of surveillance. During that period it was not as sophisticated as it is now. But the question is this, why is it that people are okay with massive surveillance today? Well, it’s based on how it’s packaged.
First, many companies that extract data will make you believe that you have given them the permission they need through consent forms. But even if you don’t consent, they will still get your data. In addition to this, this online surveillance is sold as something that is good for you. For example, Facebook has often remarked that it uses the personal data of users in order to give them a better experience on the platform. Besides, there’s little the ordinary guy can do to deal with this.