Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance Capitalism

Presenter: Michael Rae

May, 2020

Surveillance Capitalism (SC) is the title of a book by S. Zuboff that was expanded on in the May issue of the CCPA Monitor published in 2019 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

We are being spied on through our smart TVs & audio devices & we blithely click ‘accept’ whenever we use social media. But to find out how much this captures of our personal information, we have to read through pages of fine print, so most of us don’t. And we don’t know how this is exploited for profit by the likes of Google & Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica (they had an office in Victoria) helped to manipulate the 2016 US election by getting data on millions of users from Facebook. This allowed them to target millions of people that they were able to manipulate into voting for Trump by knowing their preferences and vulnerabilities.

Tech giants suck up more & more business & personal information beyond our knowledge & keep algorithms sorting & targeting systems to attract our attention & direct our habits & purchases.

Closer to home, we have learned that there has been police surveillance of political protests.

In China facial recognition is so advanced they can track you wherever you go as a UK reporter recently found out when he tried unsuccessfully to escape surveillance. This also is true to a large extent in the UK & elsewhere.

People can also be identified by their heartbeats using laser vibrometry that detects the unique vibrations induced in fabric by heartbeats.

Western forces commonly use software that compares facial recognition or gait with those recorded in laboratories of biometric data compiled by police & intelligence agencies to identify masked protestors. And border agents are increasingly using iris scans to monitor people.

Kids in Alberta & BC (as well as half of US kids) use Google Classroom & most schools are invaded by cellphones & computers as education moves online. This invasion & our passive cooperation will expropriate our private experience to exploit & change how we behave to the benefit of the marketplace so that they can profit from regulating our actions & behaviour.

So why aren’t governments regulating these companies to protect our privacy?

Governments, themselves, also use the same technologies. For example, after 9/11 the US government nurtured, mimicked, sheltered & appropriated SC capabilities to track potential security threats and countries increasingly let companies self-regulate. Interception technology already exists & can be delivered by companies such as Cisco, Juniper, & Huawei.

Governments don’t like the public knowing everything they do. That’s why they lock up whistle blowers such as C. Manning, E. Snowdon & J. Assange. However, governments like to snoop on us & increasingly use companies such as NSO, WhatsApp, Gamma Group & Hacking Teams spyware. David Kaye says this is now out of control.

Environmental groups are routinely monitored by CSIS & the RCMP to protect the private interests of oil & gas companies, etc. E. Warren advocates breaking up giant tech companies, but they are by no means the only SC we now live with. Already there is no place to hide our activities, experiences or behaviour. Democracy is threatened as are human rights.


1. How aware are you of surveillance technology?

2. How concerned are you about surveillance capitalism?

3. Is surveillance associated only with capitalism and neoliberalism?

4. What actions should you take to avoid surveillance? Can you?