Book Title: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
Author: Shoshana Zuboff
Details: Published in January 2019 by Profile Books, 705 pages.
The book exposes the mechanisms that have enabled Big Tech to grow exponentially into the ubiquitous platforms that most of us rely on daily. The book uses the concept of behavioural surplus to explain how Big Tech has been able to monetise the trace (data crumbs) of our online activity that we give away freely. The trade-off we make is we get ‘free’ use of platforms, in exchange for accepting to see ads and giving away our clicking and usage behaviour (and sometimes a lot more, since our use is tracked across platforms).
The danger here is that this data has given away so much that it can now be used to shape our behaviour. We receive suggestions based on the preferences we’ve expressed by our browsing. Further, analysis of the behaviour of millions of people makes it possible to infer our likely preferences with high levels of predictive powers. What it means is that our ability to ‘own our future’ is therefore at risk.
This is the thesis outlined in the first part of the book. It’s accessible and compelling, making it well worth the read. In my view, the book then takes a philosophical turn to debate the implications on humanity and what can be done, a part that I found to be meandering and can be skipped.