Monday, 3 October 2016

A little temporary convenience

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" said Benjamin Franklin. Maybe, since we gave up our privacy in return for a frictionless shopping and social media experience, we also stopped deserving nice things. Although, given the unequal bargaining power underlying our Faustian pact with the panopticon owners, it's not as if we were ever given much choice:
Surveillance capitalism has some of the features of a zero-sum game. The actual value of the data collected is not clear, but it is definitely an advantage to collect more than your rivals do. Because human beings develop an immune response to new forms of tracking and manipulation, the only way to stay successful is to keep finding novel ways to peer into people's private lives. And because much of the surveillance economy is funded by speculators, there is an incentive to try flashy things that will capture the speculators' imagination, and attract their money.

This creates a ratcheting effect where the behavior of ever more people is tracked ever more closely, and the collected information retained, in the hopes that further dollars can be squeezed out of it.

Just like industrialized manufacturing changed the relationship between labor and capital, surveillance capitalism is changing the relationship between private citizens and the entities doing the tracking. Our old ideas about individual privacy and consent no longer hold in a world where personal data is harvested on an industrial scale.

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.
Maciej Cegłowski