Who is profiting from surveillance in the 21st Century?
Some will say
we didn’t really have a choice anyway.
There are so many cameras now.
Being the watcher or
being the watched
has become accepted (mostly).
If you pretend that they do not exist,
could you forget that they are there?
Some feel protected
and some feel rejected.
Some feel both safe and
afraid under the gaze.
When did we ask about the
military surveillance technologies
that have been creeping
into our everyday?
It rarely enters
our minds that surveillance might be
shaping our lives.
Who would consent to
if we knew who profits from surveillance?
Dataveillance and data mining
Dataveillance, and the sale of personalised data, is strategy used by social media platforms to profit from their users. For example, “Twitter puts trillions of tweets up for sale to data miners.”
If Twitter is using us, then why don’t we use Twitter back?
Firstly, I do not recommend that you become a Twitter account holder, you can view anything on Twitter, public profiles and hashtags, without having an account. Twitter’s business model is to use its users through advertising revenue and dataveillance. Furthermore, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are designed to manipulate our brain biology, to give users cheap dopamine highs and hook our attention as long as possible.
If one does decide to engage with the Twitter soup, there are personal strategies one can develop to reduce brain chemistry manipulation. It is possible to set limits of engagement for oneself, and be self aware of what one tweets or “likes”. I began using the Twitter “hashtag” format in artworks because the hashtag is a somewhat contained space. It’s a way of grouping tweets together in one location so the tweets and users can interconnect. Plus, the hashtag location is easy to find and view whether one has an account or not. There are a variety of ways that one can use this location/container, but when I use hashtags I aim to make territory and use Twitter back.
“Surveillance capitalism: Who is watching – and why?”
In his second lecture in the 2020 Massey Lectures series,“Surveillance capitalism: Who is watching – and why?” Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), presents a detailed and chilling critique of “surveillance capitalism”, and how it affects our lives.
Along with its historical foundations, Deibert explains Shoshana Zuboff’s concept of “surveillance capitalism” in a straight forward accessible way:
“In exchange for services given to consumers (mostly for free), industries monitor users behaviour in order to tailor advertisements to match their interests. This new form of information capitalism aims to predict and modify human behaviour as a means to produce revenue and market control.” […] “Under surveillance capitalism, says Zuboff, our ignorance is their bliss.”
At this link, listen to Ron Deibert’s full lecture “Surveillance capitalism: Who is watching – and why?” Massey Lectures 2020, Ideas, CBC.
Unfortunately there is not a full text transcript available online. However, all six of the 2020 Massey Lectures are published in Ronald J. Deibert’s book Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society, House of Anansi Press, 2020.
Here is a link to information about Shoshana Zuboff and her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
The “Surveillance-Industrial Complex”
In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a report titled “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society”, written by Jay Stanley.
This report is a detailed documentation of some of the historic precursors of the current circumstances of “surveillance capitalism” (in the U.S.A.). It reveals that, after 9/11, the Patriot Act changed the protocols on privacy and security that had been established in the late 1970s to protect civilians living in the U.S. For example, the introduction of the Patriot Act it made it “much easier for the [U.S.] government to demand information from businesses […] Section 215 of the act, [gave] the FBI the power to demand customer records from Internet service providers (ISPs) and other communications providers, libraries, bookstores or any other business – with little judicial oversight.” (Stanley, page 12). See link to “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.”
Beyond matters of “privacy and the state”
Professor David Lyon asserts that the issues with 21st Century surveillance go “beyond privacy and the state.” […] “The state is not the key player [anymore]. Governments are deeply dependent on the corporate sector and its platforms […] Spotify, Apple, Google and so on, who’s core practices are those of surveillance capitalism.” For example, “Google was the first [digital platform] to realise that ‘waste data’, in their servers, had potential [market value, because] it yielded clues about consumer behaviour.” This is important because the harvesting and analysis of personal data provides detailed predictions about consumers that benefits the interests of all sorts of corporations, and it fuels the “predictive futures market.” Taking this into account, Lyon says that “[Shoshona] Zuboff sees Human agency downplayed by surveillance capitalism, and that in turn weakens democracy.” See link to David Lyon’s lecture “Personal Data, Surveillance and Contagion”. This video is also embedded into the ‘Feel’ portal.