Blog 6: Surveillance Capitalism

House Party Punch: Evaluating Surveillance Capitalism

A little bit of this, A Little Bit of That

Everyone who knows me understands that I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, but my reference to house party punch is still relevant (I will get there). My reading of the first two chapter of the The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power mirrors the imbibing of this punch.

Chapter 1: “Home or Exile in the Digital Future” is well-written and the author makes logical points (the punch is pretty good). Her explanations of Google’s Nest program peaked my interest. Smart houses provide great convenience, but at what cost? The following is a trailer for a great movie, I.T., starring Pierce Brosnan:

I.T. (2016)

Now, you are all thinking that this is dystopia cubed? Well, you can argue that it is overblown for Hollywood. But hackers do exist and they can inject themselves into your lives in the mildest of manners. Smart homes can leave you with very bad news with which to contend. Spoofing of your own systems is a very real problem:

Spoofing is the act of disguising a communication from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source. Spoofing can apply to emails, phone calls, and websites, or can be more technical, such as a computer spoofing an IP address, Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), or Domain Name System (DNS) server. Spoofing can be used to gain access to a target’s personal information, spread malware through infected links or attachments, bypass network access controls, or redistribute traffic to conduct a denial-of-service attack. Spoofing is often the way a bad actor gains access in order to execute a larger cyber attack such as an advanced persistent threat or a man-in-the-middle attack.

Here is an example of spoofing, which can occur at one of our favorite spots, coffee shops:

Spoofing at Coffee Shops

So, let’s say you are checking your thermostat from your laptop at a coffee shop. You login utilizing free wifi and spoofers can get virtual keys to your house. Dangerous? Yes, because it is true. But there are ways of protecting yourselves. You can download a Virtual Private Network (VPN) onto your laptop should you choose to work on the Internet while at your local coffee shop Protection is essential and we aren’t sitting ducks if we know how to handle ourselves. Many systems have VPNs that are part of their computer’s architecture and that is great.

Chapter 1 also made me really think long and hard about the virtual monopoly that companies like Google and Facebook enjoy when it comes to the digital realm. This is a problem. We need to limit the personal data that we share on social networks. But what about when Google tags wherever you go (following your digital breadcrumbs, as Dr. Zamora would say)? Well, Google has, in fact, gotten into legal hot water for doing so and Facebook hasn’t been unscathed by the demands for increased privacy.

I agree with the author, the Internet should not be a free-for-all Wild West. That is not what it was designed to be! Enacting legislation at the state level is something that I would normally argue for when there is an imbroglio; however, the Internet has no borders! So that will not work. I think we need to take a hard look at developing an Internet Bill of Rights. But this comes with thorns of its own. We’d have to enact corresponding enabling legislation and treaties with participating countries. Despite the difficulties that will be encountered, we need to put parameters on such companies, just as trust-busting occurred in the early 20th century.

My reading of Chapter 2: “Setting the Stage for Surveillance Capitalism” is where I started to get a little inebriated from the party punch. The organization of the chapter was perplexing. It seemed to oscillate from one idea to the next, causing intellectual dizziness.

I detected that the author had more than just a little vitriol towards the free market economy. Capitalism is not an inherent evil. However, I agree with Zuboff that monitoring is needed. Adam’s Smith’s unfettered “invisible hand” does not pass muster. We do need to exercise caution and when necessary, enact regulations against abuses.

Zuboff’s discussion of the waves of modernities were hard to follow. I thinks she presents realities in an either/or fashion and I disagree with this. For example, she states that during the first wave of modernity people settled into expected roles. We do not need to throw all of that away. When many of our grandparents immigrated to the United States, they had communities that they relied upon. We need to implement more of that in our digital lives as we have been taught in this and other classes lead by Dr. Zamora. Does there need to be change? Absolutely! Where would we be without the Civil Rights movement and without the agitation for women’s rights? Further, the right to protest is embodied in freedom of speech.

My headache diminished a bit when the author spoke of the dangers of surveillance capitalism. It is everywhere. How do we combat it? We can read the Terms of Service, right? These are long and tedious, even for me! They are definitely contracts of adhesion, which are very one-sided and favor the drafter. I think that we need to rally and fight for clarity. It’s either that or lights out, don’t use the programs. That isn’t feasible in our technologically-driven world. It’s technology that is enabling us to keep the proverbial lights on at our University during a public health crisis!

On one hand, surveillance is necessary. I want it to occur so that we are kept safe. On the other hand (I feel like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof), the nets cannot be cast so wide that our information is ripe for the taking at will. The best way is to develop grassroots interests in combatting the effects of this.

I was also intrigued about the “right to be forgotten.” This is something that Europe implements, but in large part, we do not. What does this mean? If one filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago, this should not be public information for the rest of Internet history, forever and ever, amen. When information becomes stale or incorrect, it should be removed. Google will remove information if you request it in the U.S. but it is a long and arduous process. Let’s cut some red tape and lasso surveillance capitalism so that we can be responsible members of the free marketplace of ideas.

By medea

Creative writing is my passion. Coffee, books and music are a hallowed trinity for me. I am pursuing an M.A. in English Writing Studies and am a Graduate Assistant. I am eager to learn the intricacies of the NetMirror! Follow me on twitter @medeathewriter!

One reply on “House Party Punch: Evaluating Surveillance Capitalism”

For people working on increasing hydration, citrus infused water (just cut up some fruit) will aid in your very necessary H2O consumption!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.