Surveillance Capitalism is something that not a lot of people may know about, but surrounds us on a daily basis. Whether you see an advertisement for something you were discussing earlier on Instagram or see a Facebook ad for a search you had done that week, companies are now paying data platforms and utilizing technology for specific ad targeting. Yes, we are all a part of this, not-so-new, technology and whether you are scared of the capabilities of these companies knowing your movements, hearing you or tracking your location — Surveillance Capitalism comes in peace. At least that’s what they want us to think.
Whether you like it or not, S.C. is the future of advertising, marketing, tech and the future of the internet, which practically means it’s the future of us. It can be unnerving to know that we are all apart of a bigger data picture designed to sell you things, but this isn’t anything new. We have all been surrounded by advertisements, designed specifically to target certain demo’s from the day you were born. When you were watching Spongebob Squarepants at age 10 on Nickelodeon — you weren’t seeing advertisements for drain cleaner right? Toys, candy and treats among other kid-centric placements rules those airwaves. Just as now, being 24 years of age, I don’t see toy advertisements pop up on my day-to-day. S.C. wants you to believe that data targeting and advertising technology is nothing new to us…being scared of this is understandable, but unnecessary. Are they right?
Proponents of S.C. believe that using your data and tracking whereabouts is all for the greater good and helpful in people’s lives. Who doesn’t want to have products, services, brands at their fingertips that they actually want to interact with? It can be perceived as a breach of trust for companies or websites to use your search history to send you information, but if this could help your day-to-day, is it all that bad? S.C. is complicated, sure, and a lot of people don’t know what to make of it — positively or negatively.
In talking with digital marketing and sales strategist Donna Bulford, we sought to breakdown what S.C. is in more simple terms and how it affects the world around us. Below is a Q&A with Ms. Bulford on S.C., lightly edited for cohesion.
Q: What is Surveillance Capitalism?
In my view Surveillance Capitalism is an economic phenomenon acting like a set of binoculars that focuses the burgeoning movement to monetize Big Data with computer mediated economic transactions that extract data in real time. Big tech companies are pioneering surveillance capitalism by eliciting most revenue generation from a surveillance data marketplace and a behavior speculation market. This ongoing harvesting of digital data sets for purposes of mass communication and human behavioral manipulation creates an Information Civilization!
Q: So is this a sort of 1984 esque practice that people should worry about? Or is surveillance capitalism actually a good thing that helps our daily lives? You could make the argument for both…
A: Well let’s take a look at the immediate pros that I see with Surveillance Capitalism in regards to businesses
- Smaller companies/businesses are able to go direct to consumers and sell/advertise their business more effectively.
- You get to know your trends/customers better.
- You can scale your advertising easier and cut costs
- You can target the right consumers who actually want your product, instead of the mass public
- Targeted messaging and advertising so you see exactly what you need/want.
- The ability to see what you want easily on mobile, out-of-home placements, online or via streaming/mobile audio.
- Ability to expedite certain aspects of your life and prioritize what’s important to your day-to-day life.
- Not be inundated with things you don’t want to see
Now of course there are cons. There are worries about privacy, security, best technology practices and the potential for A.I. and other technology grabbing a hold of jobs that were previously done by humans. This lens of critique weaves a narrative around the inevitable switch during the Big Data age information age to build real time marketplaces vs offering customers goods or services. As with any transformation there is going to be suffering at the loss of habits, traditions, and established paradigms. We have a chance to stay human centered even in this new economy which is seemingly governed by machines.
Q: Are there political implications to this? With “fake news” and the media being under attack almost daily, can politicians and media companies use S.C. to curry favor in one direction without people really knowing?
A: I’m of the opinion that you can only blame the tools so much. People ultimately are the decision makers and if they are skewed by deliberately targeted messaging that they don’t want to see, it’s a them problem, not an S.C. problem. With the Russian scandal taking place, there is obviously some paranoia surrounding what people can see when it comes to what politicians are putting out there and what is being controlled. Companies like Facebook and Google have come under fire for not guarding its users privacy well enough and have learned from this. I anticipate the whole “fake news” traffic to be a lot less prevalent in the 2020 election and with the evolution of S.C. and web privacy getting stronger, I don’t believe it to be much of an issue. I have also noticed a lot of programs popping up which support local journalism and investigative reporting. It’s so important that part of the strategy to curtail fake news not simply lie on the platforms which aggregate our news feeds with algorithms. Citizens engaging with local journalism and investigative reporting is another tactic for keeping fake news at bay! Simply because local journalism and beat reporting is just so procedural and decentralized it keeps a more stable record of the political eco system.
Q: What opportunities exist?
A: The big opportunity is for global citizens to actively define how they participate in the digital footprint that they leave behind with their consumption. In my world view – the emergence of smart cities is the greatest opportunity with Surveillance Capitalism because I believe it is by no accident that this era of human history coincides with a dramatic population shift. For the first time in human history more individuals live in urban centers than live in rural areas. Smart cities can offer us information such as the hours of the nearest food pop up that we wish to patron, traffic patterns, energy grid information and unique partnerships between commerce and personal life such as participating in trending hashtags for rewards! In a literal sense Surveillance Capitalism heralds in a potentially whole new school of thought and genre of tools that will instruct and enlighten all of us on controlling our digital and personal identity.
Q: What’s the future of Surveillance Capitalism?
A: Well in short, it’s huge. S.C. will never stop being a thing with new and modern technology. It will keep getting bigger and better and will impact our daily lives positively. Smart cities come to mind as something S.C. will create. Having everything intertwined and working efficiently through cloud-based tech and data. 5G in cities for better mobile efforts. Essentially, making the world run smoother. Surveillance Capitalism is an incredible opportunity for economic stimulus and both material and personal growth. A new mode of capitalism might shift the focus of corporations to a grander set of goals than simply shareholder supremacy. Already in the world of unicorn startups we have seen “Founder Supremacy” often be a key lynchpin in building up a new company. This simple power shift allows a tilt in focus from the business as usual ethos that defined Industrial and Information Age Capitalism.