cory on surveil capital

You’ve probably heard Zuboff’s excellent coinage “Surveillance Capitalism” and perhaps you’ve read the paper it was introduced in, or the book that it led to. 

Today, I’ve published a response to that book, “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism.”


Original Tweet:

cory doctorow.. shoshana zuboff.. age of surveillance capitalism

this first tweet in thread (of 25) links to (book) 109 min medium read (notes/quotes below)

This is the core of my critique, the reason I wrote this book: we should be suspicious of all corporate control over our lives, and should insist on nothing less than absolute technological self-determination.


Original Tweet:

aka: let go of people telling people what to do ness

begs a means/tech to undo our hierarchical listening

ie: cure ios city


notes/quotes from (book) how to destroy surveillance capitalism []

Editor’s Note: Surveillance capitalism is everywhere. But it’s not the result of some wrong turn or a rogue abuse of corporate power — it’s the system working as intended. This is the subject of Cory Doctorow’s new book, which we’re thrilled to publish in whole here on OneZero. This is how to destroy surveillance capitalism.

When an obscure idea gains currency, there are only two things that can explain its ascendance: Either the person expressing that idea has gotten a lot better at stating their case, or the proposition has become harder to deny in the face of mounting evidence. In other words, if we want people to take climate change seriously, we can get a bunch of Greta Thunbergs to make eloquent, passionate arguments from podiums, winning our hearts and minds, or we can wait for flood, fire, broiling sun, and pandemics to make the case for us. In practice, we’ll probably have to do some of both: The more we’re boiling and burning and drowning and wasting away, the easier it will be for the Greta Thunbergs of the world to convince us.

or perhaps.. it’s based on something our souls are already craving/resonating with.. ie: maté basic needs.. problem deep enough

the implicit message is that machine learning and surveillance are causing the changes in our consensus about what’s true.

when actually.. nothing’s true.. ie: all data is on whales in sea world

what if there’s another explanation? What if it’s the material circumstances, and not the arguments, that are making the difference for these conspiracy pitchmen? (people in trauma vulnerable to conspiracies)

If it’s trauma and not contagion — material conditions and not ideology — that is making the difference today and enabling a rise of repulsive misinformation in the face of easily observed facts, that doesn’t mean our computer networks are blameless. They’re still doing the heavy work of locating vulnerable people and guiding them through a series of ever-more-extreme ideas and communities.

Our world is on fire, and so we have to put the fires out — to figure out how to help people see the truth of the world through the conspiracies they’ve been confused by.

begs a means to undo our hierarchical listening ie: 2 convers as infra

But firefighting is reactive. We need fire prevention. We need to strike at the traumatic material conditions that make people vulnerable to the contagion of conspiracy. Here, too, tech has a role to play.

yeah.. that..

ie: tech as it could be

There’s a critical piece missing from the debate, though. All these solutions assume that tech companies are a fixture, that their dominance over the internet is a permanent fact. Proposals to replace Big Tech with a more diffused, pluralistic internet are nowhere to be found. Worse: The “solutions” on the table today require Big Tech to stay big because only the very largest companies can afford to implement the systems these laws demand.

Figuring out what we want our tech to look like is crucial if we’re going to get out of this mess..t

ie: tech as it could be

imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..

what the world needs most is the energy of 8b alive people

Today, we’re at a crossroads where we’re trying to figure out if we want to fix the Big Tech companies that dominate our internet or if we want to fix the internet itself by unshackling it from Big Tech’s stranglehold. We can’t do both, so we have to choose.

I want us to choose wisely. Taming Big Tech is integral to fixing the internet, and for that, we need digital rights activism.

yeah.. that’s more reactive/defense.. like you said not to do above

let go man

But digital rights activism is right where it’s always been: looking out for the humans in a world where tech is inexorably taking over.

The latest version of this critique comes in the form of “surveillance capitalism,” a term coined by business professor Shoshana Zuboff in her long and influential 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff argues that “surveillance capitalism” is a unique creature of the tech industry and that it is unlike any other abusive commercial practice in history, ..

shoshana zuboff.. age of surveillance capitalism.. zuboff unprecedented law

She’s right that capitalism today threatens our species, and she’s right that tech poses unique challenges to our species and civilization, but she’s really wrong about how tech is different and why it threatens our species.

What’s more, I think that her incorrect diagnosis will lead us down a path that ends up making Big Tech stronger, not weaker. We need to take down Big Tech, and to do that, we need to start by correctly identifying the problem.

taleb center of problem law

this should be interesting.. will he really id it.. or just ironically.. restate zuboff et al

The “surveillance capitalism” critique recasts the digital rights movement in a new light again: not as alarmists who overestimate the importance of their shiny toys nor as shills for big tech but as serene deck-chair rearrangers whose long-standing activism is a liability because it makes them incapable of perceiving novel threats as they continue to fight the last century’s tech battles.

But tech exceptionalism is a sin no matter who practices it.

ad-driven Big Tech’s customers are advertisers, and what companies like Google and Facebook sell is their ability to convince you to buy stuff. Big Tech’s product is persuasion. The services — social media, search engines, maps, messaging, and more — are delivery systems for persuasion.

Surveillance capitalism assumes that because advertisers buy a lot of what Big Tech is selling, Big Tech must be selling something real. But Big Tech’s massive sales could just as easily be the result of a popular delusion or something even more pernicious: monopolistic control over our communications and commerce.

pluralistic ignorance.. of whales in sea world.. under the control of hierarchicial listening.. et al

Being watched changes your behavior, and not for the better..t

huge.. and reason we need econ like bachelard oikos law..

batra hide in public law et al

Zuboff’s book features beautifully wrought explanations of these phenomena. But Zuboff also claims that surveillance literally robs us of our free will — that when our *personal data is mixed with machine learning, it creates a system of persuasion so devastating that we are **helpless before it.

well we’re **shell less.. because all that *personal data is non legit..

black science of people/whales law et al

It is a mind-control ray out of a 1950s comic book, wielded by mad scientists whose supercomputers guarantee them perpetual and total world domination

worse than that.. we’re not ourselves to begin with.. and we’re missing that.. as we’re trying to fix symptoms rather than the deeper problem

To understand why you shouldn’t worry about mind-control rays — but why you should worry about surveillance and Big Tech — we must start by unpacking what we mean by “persuasion.”

Google, Facebook, and other surveillance capitalists promise their customers (the advertisers) that if they use machine-learning tools trained on unimaginably large data sets of nonconsensually harvested personal information, they will be able to uncover ways to bypass the rational faculties of the public and direct their behavior, creating a stream of purchases, votes, and other desired outcomes.

again.. makes no diff if *data is non legit (well.. not diff to better world.. works fine for people trying to sell you things or trying to tell people what to do)

The impact of dominance far exceeds the impact of manipulation and should be central to our analysis and any remedies we seek.

But there’s little evidence that this is happening. Instead, the predictions that surveillance capitalism delivers to its customers are much less impressive. Rather than finding ways to bypass our rational faculties, surveillance capitalists like Mark Zuckerberg mostly do one or more of three things:

1. Segmenting – (getting to target audience) – Surveillance capitalism is segmenting times a billion. (ie: target not just from posts but from emails, convos).. seriously creepy. but not mind control..doesn’t deprive you of your free will. It doesn’t trick you.. finding people who secretly agree with you isn’t the same as convincing people to agree with you

2. Deception – (lies and fraud) – like multilevel marketing schemes, in which deceptive claims about potential earnings.. sc to locate other people who have been similarly deceived, forming a community of people who reinforce one another’s false beliefs. . But it’s not brainwashing; it’s fraud

3. Domination – (monopoly) – Monopoly is the cause, and surveillance capitalism and its negative outcomes are the effects of monopoly. . ie: google’s dominance over search.. Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism a “rogue capitalism” whose data-hoarding and machine-learning techniques rob us of our free will. But influence campaigns..have an affect that is small and temporary while monopolistic dominance over informational systems has massive, enduring effects. .. If our concern is how corporations are foreclosing on our ability to make up our own minds and determine our own futures, the impact of dominance far exceeds the impact of manipulation and should be central to our analysis and any remedies we seek.

4. Bypassing our rational facultiesThis is the good stuff: using machine learning, “dark patterns,” engagement hacking, and other techniques to get us to do things that run counter to our better judgment. This is mind control.. The use of countdown timers on a purchase completion page can create a sense of urgency that causes you to ignore the nagging internal voice suggesting that you should shop around or sleep on your decision. The use of people from your social graph in ads can provide “social proof” that a purchase is worth making.. Games are extraordinarily good at this

The vulnerability of small segments of the population to dramatic, efficient corporate manipulation is a real concern that’s worthy of our attention and energy. But it’s not an existential threat to society.

If data is the new oil, then surveillance capitalism’s engine has a leak

Zuboff observes this phenomenon and concludes that data must be very valuable if surveillance capitalism is so hungry for it.. But what if the voracious appetite is because data has such a short half-life — because people become inured so quickly to new, data-driven persuasion techniques — that the companies are locked in an arms race with our limbic system? 

There is one way in which targeted advertising uniquely benefits those advocating for socially unacceptable causes: It is invisible. 

Pick-up artists are proof that people can believe they have developed a system of mind control even when it doesn’t work.

Facebook’s surveillance regime is really without parallel in the Western world.. not just about tech but bigness.. Because it has a lot of users and a lot of data about those users, Facebook is a very efficient tool for locating people with hard-to-find traits, the kinds of traits that are widely diffused in the population such that advertisers have historically struggled to find a cost-effective way to reach them

With nothing but “organic” discussion, Facebook would not generate enough traffic to sell enough ads to make the money it needs to continually expand by buying up its competitors while returning handsome sums to its investors.

If our concern is that markets cease to function when consumers can no longer make choices, then copyright locks should concern us at least as much as influence campaigns. An influence campaign might nudge you to buy a certain brand of phone; but the copyright locks on that phone absolutely determine where you get it serviced, which apps can run on it, and when you have to throw it away rather than fixing it.


None of this is to minimize the problems with surveillance. Surveillance matters, and Big Tech’s use of surveillance is an existential risk to our species, but that’s not because surveillance and machine learning rob us of our free will.

This is an area where Zuboff shines. Her chapter on “sanctuary” — the feeling of being unobserved — is a beautiful hymn to introspection, calmness, mindfulness, and tranquility.. When you are watched, something changes.. t

bachelard oikos law and the need for it to be everyone.. who is doing something else.. so no one is left to inspect us

In the digital age, our authentic selves are inextricably tied to our digital lives. Your search history is a running ledger of the questions you’ve pondered. Your location history is a record of the places you’ve sought out and the experiences you’ve had there. Your social graph reveals the different facets of your identity, the people you’ve connected with.

To be observed in these activities is to lose the sanctuary of your authentic self..t

but none of those are legit to begin with.. i agree with the being observed part.. but we’re already whales in sea world.. so the observation is the whole point.. so all we do is already not us..

and we don’t have the oikos .. first thing.. everyday.. to detox us (get us out of sea world)

begs we try curiosity over decision making

The effects of surveillance on our ability to be our authentic selves are not equal for all people. Some of us are lucky enough to live in a time and place in which all the most important facts of our lives are widely and roundly socially acceptable and can be publicly displayed without the risk of social consequence.

doesn’t matter.. still not themselves

A private realm is necessary for human *progress.

i’d say.. for human *being..

let go

Any data you collect and retain will eventually leak..t

doesn’t matter.. not the issue.. all data is non legit..

what we need is to focus on a diff data set.. ie: self-talk as data

The lack of a private life can rob vulnerable people of the chance to be their authentic selves and constrain our actions by depriving us of sanctuary, but there is another risk that is borne by everyone, not just people with a secret: crime.

which wouldn’t happen if we let go enough ie: gershenfeld something else law


How monopolies, not mind control, drive surveillance capitalism

The hard problem of our species is coordination..t

mostly because we keep trying to do it w just some people..  part\ial.. is killing us.. for (blank)’s sake

begs we try 2 convers as infra

complex simplicity – deep/simple/open enough for 8b people to be able to resonate w and access today

interoperability doesn’t require standardization — indeed, standardization often proceeds from the chaos of ad hoc interoperability measures.

ad hoc.. partial.. yeah.. let go of that hard won order.. io dance ness

Fake news is an epistemological crisis..t

the crisis is fake people .. most people are other people.. (aka: whales in sea world).. which means all the data we keep flapping on about.. is non legit to start with.. we don’t have to discern fake news.. it’s all fake

The collapse of the credibility of our systems for divining and upholding truths has left us in a state of epistemological chaos..t

could use/see it as opp.. we need to let go of some/most/all of that hard won order

We have always had disagreements about what’s true, but today, we have a disagreement over how we know whether something is true. This is an epistemological crisis, not a crisis over belief. 

again.. deeper issue is that non of it is legit.. because non of us are our authentic selves.. living our fittingness

Targeting — surveillance capitalism — makes it easier to find people who are undergoing this epistemological crisis, but it doesn’t create the crisis. For that, you need to look to corruption.

way back to seeking knowledge of good/evil.. over grokking what enough is

there’s one way in which I am a tech exceptionalist. I believe that online tools are the key to overcoming problems that are much more urgent than tech monopolization: climate change, inequality, misogyny, and discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity, and other factors. The internet is how we will recruit people to fight those fights, and how we will coordinate their labor..t.. Tech is not a substitute for democratic accountability, the rule of law, fairness, or stability — but it’s a means to achieve these things.. The hard problem of our species is coordination.

i think tech can go deeper.. to help us coord/augment our interconnectedness rather than our battles

If we’re going to break Big Tech’s death grip on our digital lives, we’re going to have to fight monopolies. 

nah.. we don’t need to fight anything. what we need is to offer a legit alt.. one that 8b souls already crave

Make Big Tech small again

small is {ginormous} beautiful

ie: tech as it could be.. listening to every voice.. everyday.. that small

a means to undo our hierarchical listening ie: 2 convers as infra

Neither tech nor law nor code nor markets are sufficient to reform Big Tech. But a profitable competitor to Big Tech could bankroll a legislative push; legal reform can embolden a toolsmith to make a better tool;

let’s not try to reform big tech.. let’s try something we’ve not yet tried

tech w no red flags – any form of telling people what to do et al

As to why things are so screwed up? Capitalism. Specifically, the monopolism that creates inequality and the inequality that creates monopolism.

nah.. it’s back to what you referenced before.. most people are other people

With all the problems of Big Tech, it’s tempting to imagine solving the problem by returning to a world without tech at all. Resist that temptation.

ie: cure ios city

 it’s up to us to seize the means of computation, putting that electronic nervous system under democratic, accountable control.

rather.. up to us to let go of control/computation/democracy/accountability

I’m a tech exceptionalist because I believe that getting tech right matters and that getting it wrong will be an unmitigated catastrophe — and doing it right can give us the power to work together to save our civilization, our species, and our planet..t

as long as we use it to 1\ undo our hierarchical listening and to 2\ coord us as legit free people ie: 2 convers as infra