Thesis #10

Surveillance is the business model of the Internet

The first person to articulate this thesis, as far as I can tell, is the Security expert Bruce Schneier in the course of an interview. “Surveillance”, he said, “is how Facebook makes money”.

”That’s how Google makes money. Data is collected by corporations as a byproduct of what they do. Phone companies do it. The credit card companies do it. The banks do it. And the government also wants this data.”

Where the government can’t collect the data itself, it leans on the companies. Sometimes the companies give it willingly (though less so since the revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013) Sometimes they resist and have to be compelled by legal means. The problem is not only that the Internet companies have to comply with the law, but that they also need government cooperation — for example to ward off what they see as overly-restrictive data-protection laws. “So”, argued Schneier, “it really is a happy confluence of interests, and both parties are benefiting. Each party is using the other to benefit.”

Further reading

Shoshana Zuboff, “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization”, Journal of Information Technology 30(1), 2015. doi: 10.1057/jit.2015.5

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