It seems like with the recent viral video of a youtube user demonstrating how Facebook shows advertisements based on your real-life conversations, the “surveillance capitalism” issue that my fellow student Raymond Hung mentions in his blog is more evident than ever. Surveillance capitalism is a “new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance”, as described by academic Shoshana Zuboff. In plainer words, we are living in a “Big Brother”-esque era in which there exists an entire industry built upon snooping and reselling data. According to a user on the online forum site Reddit who worked in the industry,
There [exists] several SDKs (software development kits) that offer fingerprinting identity services. Meaning, when someone opens your app, it checks their device ID, IP address, GPS location, email address, etc. and makes a match to an identity. You then use this SDK to track their behavior in your app, such as purchases, interests, demographics, preferences, etc. This data is stored along with all the other apps that use the SDK. Now as an upsell, I can buy all of your behavior data from every other app that uses the same service. From the moment you install the app I know everything about you.
This hair-raising behaviour is not just a recent issue: in 2013, it was discovered that Equifax, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments across the country was assembling a database of over 190 million employment and salary records of more than one-third of U.S adults. This information could be then sold to third parties such as potential employers, who would then use this information when hiring new employees. Even worse, with Equifax falling victim to the recent large-scale data breach, all 190 million records are now compromised.
The idea that your every move on the internet is being watched and recorded goes against all that we learned in our third class of COMM101, Business Ethics. Nevertheless the intrusive business tactics displayed in the surveillance capitalism market are largely unregulated and therefore unfortunately legal. Personally, I was only recently made aware of the sheer magnitude of internet surveillance that is being performed onto netizens, and I feel like that is part of the problem: while most internet users are now aware that internet surveillance exists as a result of Snowden going public in 2013, netizens do not understand how intimately internet surveillance affects them. Hopefully, as the public awareness of surveillance capitalism increases, something will be done about the lack of regulation and laws- even though us internet users may have no illegal internet activities to hide, with so much personal information about ourselves available on the market, we may have something to fear.
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Business Ethics: The hard truth about surveillance capitalism
YouTube user demonstrating how Facebook listens to conversations to serve ads from videos
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