‘Surveillance capitalism’ may be the latest mutation in the evolution of capitalism in the digital age. It’s a form of market capitalism that transforms human behaviour and experience into digital data which is then used as a free source of raw material for commercial exploitation. It raises a number of concerns:-
• The ‘top-down’ (rather than horizontal) nature of the surveillance, with the prospect of a high degree of centralisation and concentration of the digital data leading to monopolistic behaviour and the concentration of wealth in this form of capitalism
• Increasingly, surveillance is surreptitious, unknown to those being monitored
• Even where consent is obtained, it’s coercive or based on the illusion of consent
Digital data is not merely a marketable product but arguably a manipulative tool to influence and even determine customers’ behaviour. So who are the main players? What’s new about surveillance capitalism and what’s not? What’s the problem and what are the possible solutions?
Henri Ruff is an economist and a member of Dorset Humanists. He has worked as a tutor for the Open University Business School and since moving to Dorset he has been leading a weekly U3A discussion group on ‘Everyday Economics’. This is his second very interesting talk for Dorset Humanists.