What You Should Know About the Dangers of Surveillance Capitalism


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Spencer Vida, Staff Writer

The concept of surveillance capitalism was first described by Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff who said that “surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.” The ability for corporations to know about people’s wants and needs to an extreme degree becomes a valuable commodity since it allows companies to find ways to manipulate and target people into buying their products. There are certain algorithms, which can be found in places like social media there is the possibility these corporations could sway a large amount of what you see and control what you believe. Such practice of manipulation, targeting, and controlled viewing can be dystopian in the wrong hands, as George Orwell said in his novel, 1984: “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” I believe surveillance capitalism shows a level of capitalism that is dangerous to American society as corporations use surveillance on the internet and in real life to learn how people think and act in the name of corporate profit.

Under surveillance capitalism, corporations can learn information about individuals in order to easily target and manipulate them by distributing their information to other corporations, social media companies, or political groups. This practice is subtle enough that users do not know they are being targeted or manipulated. This shows that surveillance capitalism is not just a threat to privacy, but it is also a threat to free thought as they weaponize people’s data against them. Companies can find out all about a person from their data such as who they are, what they believe, and what they want. This makes it easier to sell people stuff whether that be a pair of shoes or an idea like whether to support or oppose climate change. This weaponization is the core concept of the advertisement business as their original goal mimics that of the so-called father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who wrote in his 1928 book Propaganda: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” In a John Stossel interview with Edward Snowden called “Privacy: Who Needs It?,” they discussed the manipulative practices of corporations and the fact that companies like Facebook have made psychological profiles of their customers. Websites with advertisements and algorithms use these profiles to target their users. Using these algorithms, social media companies can control what people see and what they are exposed to, which has a big impact on what people believe and think. For example, a psychological experiment reported by Business Insider and executed by Facebook exposed 600,000 users to either very few negative posts or very few positive posts. The study discovered that such manipulation had a large impact on people’s emotions. The use of ads, algorithms, and other types of targeted subliminal messaging can be used by corporations to influence the population and shape people’s views and opinions on laws, elections, and what is considered to be “acceptable” for political and mainstream thought. This manipulation is even scarier when you consider the connection that technology corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have with the United States Government. The government can use their data for much more manipulative and psychological actions than what is being done by corporations as these companies can only sell products while the government’s purposes might be much more impactful than that.

The internet started out as an equalizer, providing people with a place to freely express themselves and connect with others. However, today, the internet is a bastion for corporate surveillance. With the introduction of trackers, cookies, and internet exploits, action must be taken to keep corporations from gathering people’s data online. It is worse on phones; Oliver Stone, a filmmaker and activist, pointed out that mobile games like Pokémon Go do not only access people’s location data, but also “the contents of your USB storage, your accounts, photographs, network connections, and phone activities, and can even activate your phone when it is in standby mode.”

Luckily, as corporate surveillance technology has improved, internet privacy technology has as well. Companies like DuckDuckGo, Proton Technologies, Brave Software, and Tor Project have ushered in the creation of a new market for private internet connections. As more people become aware of the need for internet privacy, the ability to be more private is getting easier. Privacy-focused tech companies are appealing to more people by using simple descriptions so that the general population has a better understanding of internet privacy.

However, Tor cannot save people from corporate privacy invasions in the public sphere since many corporate privacy abuses have gone unpunished. For example, according to the ACLU, retail stores have been using facial recognition cameras to track their customers’ behaviors when they were supposed to be used to catch shoplifters. Additionally, companies like Facebook are tracking people’s in-person store purchases as reported by Consumer Reports. The Verge, an American technology news website, mentioned how Google is getting 50 million Americans’ health records from the health care system; one of the largest private healthcare systems in the U.S., Ascension, mimicked the same thing without people’s consent. The only solution to these privacy violations is for public corporate surveillance to be addressed as a national issue that people must pay more attention to. Corporate privacy invasions need to be stopped with more privacy laws that can prevent these abuses from even happening in the first place.

As the digital revolution has kicked into high gear, it is good to see the start of a revolution of privacy to combat the abuses of power on the internet and in real life. The abuse of power being done by corporations and the United States government can be stopped with the use of privacy laws and privacy tools. The need for privacy is greater than ever as we make ourselves more available to the world; there has never been a stronger governmental threat and corporate intrusion in American history until now. Surveillance capitalism is one of the tools that has helped the slow-creeping, backward movement in capitalism as people try to make capitalism freer and more ethical. Many corporations are trying to keep the capitalism of the past, a time when the wealthy oppressed the common people for their personal gain and profit.



Bitar, Jenna, and Jay Stanley. “Are Stores You Shop at Secretly Using Face Recognition on You?” American Civil Liberties Union, 27 July 2021, Are Stores You Shop at Secretly Using Face Recognition on You?

D’Onfro, Jillian. “Facebook Ran a Huge Psychological Experiment on Users and Manipulated the Emotions of More than 600,000 People.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 28 June 2014, Facebook Ran A Huge Psychological Experiment On Users And Manipulated The Emotions Of More Than 600,000 People. 

Griggs, Mary Beth. “Google Reveals ‘Project Nightingale’ after Being Accused of Secretly Gathering Personal Health Records.” The Verge, The Verge, 11 Nov. 2019, Google reveals ‘Project Nightingale’ after being accused of secretly gathering personal health records.

John, Allen St. “How Facebook Tracks You, Even When You’re Not on Facebook.” Consumer Reports, 11 Apr. 2018,  How Facebook Tracks You, Even When You’re Not on Facebook. 

“Privacy: Who Needs It.” Performance by John Stossel, YouTube, YouTube, 16 Feb. 2021,  Privacy: Who Needs It. Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.