In her last book, Shoshana Zuboff (“ The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power”) propose a very good topic to discuss. It is about the evolution of the capitalism and the challenges to humanity posed by digital future and the fourth industrial revolution. Moreover, this book can be read as an exercise of self-defense because of its consequences are being suffered by every one of us.
However, the concept of surveillance capitalism is not hers. The first time it appears in a long article, Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age, by Foster and McCheiney. They explain it as an element of the domination imposed by the Americans. Surveillance capitalism is one of its slopes. What is an original idea is to link the concept with the Big Brother who we are living with right now.
After all, what is exactly surveillance capitalism? It is some kind of wealth accumulation through the economic exploitation of the data that is captured for free by constant monitoring of unawere people, their movements and behaviors, both in real as in virtual world.
This in the path opened by Alphabet in 2003 when they decided to increase the scope of analysis. The door is opened and the development of AI provides the technical needs to be able to do it. What we know right now (which is that we get a lot of ads related to the queries we carreyed out in Google) is only a small sample of what we will have when personal assistants as Alexa or Google Assistant will arrive in every single home.
AI provide enough information about us: the places we visit, the restaurants where we eat, books that we read, political opinions o even sexual desires. Furthermore, it is more important, because it is very easy to generate a profile even not providing explicit data about us. The picture is made by some algorithm. Terrific. Isn’t it?
Internet of Things is the last piece of that puzzle. They can have everything about our life. Android will be in our watch, thermostat, television tuner, refrigerator. We’ll connect every device at home or in the car or at work through our cell phone.
Why can that happen? Because we give permission to Google to know everything about us. “When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). ” (…) Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.” The text is quoted from the Google Terms of Services.
Be honest with you: Did you read it when you opened your e-mail account in Gmail? Did the Universities that have free email provided by Google read this before signing the agreement?
The most important issue is not only what Google knows about each one of us but also the relationships that Google has with third parties. Last December was published a worrying report saying that mostly 2/3 of the most popular apps in Google Play send information to Facebook. Is well known the pact between Microsoft and Google to protect surveillance capitalism.
The Forth Industrial Revolution, the advances in AI and the digitalization pose new threat for people: the tsars can conduct our lives. Yes, I’m taking about nudge, a idea so trendy that has arrived even to the Administrative Law. That’s the real end of the society of privacy and the beginning of a new one… whose consequences are unknowns.
Yes, very different and very dangerous. Do we have a real knowledge where the data from our e-commerce are? Do we know if it is possible across our searches in Google to create a profile that can have consequences for our career? The social score was adopted in China last year… and in America this kind of data serves for the resolutions of the judges.
We have created a non-law space and Google knows it. According to the book “The New Digital Age” by Eric Schmidt (President at Alphabet/Google) and Jared Cohen: “the online world is not truly bound by terrestrial laws…it’s the world’s largest ungoverned space.”
The competence between laws and Public Administration allows this kind of companies to look for the best rules to obtain the largest benefits.
There is an idea repeated ad nauseam in the world of this companies and in the world of European neocons: European regulations difficult the business and the innovation. Even though it is not true. The European regulation, specially the GRPD is enacted to protect citizens in order to face to the power of these giants, Google, Amazon or Microsoft (Apple says that what is in an iPhone remains there). But there is also an issue created by the Chinese State Capitalism, that inserted surveillance microchips in serves used by American companies.
Is there a solution to fix that problem?
It is not easy, but a good beginning should be to cut up these companies: Firstly, should be Google whose Android is being used even by Huawei the Chinese company accused of espionage. Google developed Android, it is the basis for searching in the internet and right now Google sells Phones and Computers.
This catup is drastic but it wouldn’t be the first time: in 1984 the monopoly of ATT was segregated in 4 companies.
Nevertheless, fixing this problem is one of the big challenges for the society of the XXI century. When we will have a new standard of privacy, the fight will begin from another side. Is a never ending fight. If Marx and Engels began their well known Manifest of the Communist Party with “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles (…) “ we have now two new actors on the stage: users of devices and owners of the technology. So, we are witnessing a new episode of an endless struggle.
Catedrático de Derecho administrativo en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid