How Big Internet Platforms Have Become Surveillance Capitalists

This article will explain what is surveillance capitalists, and how serious is the threat posed by them.

We have already realized how serious are the threats posed by the big internet platforms to public health, competition and the privacy of individuals. We will soon wake up to the fact that big tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, Amazon have also emerged as threats to democratically elected governments.

  • These companies offer their own services which are often seen as alternatives to the those provided by the governments.
  • Before 9/11, big technology companies in the US have had little interactions with the Government. That little interactions had to do only with paying taxes.
  • Products created by this big companies are accepted by both the Government and the consumers.
  • But after the 9/11, this relation has undergone a significant change.
  • Suddenly, technology giants have started supporting the Government to build a surveillance state. Through these companies, the US intelligence community started gathering massive stores of personal data. These data are being used to prevent future attacks.
  • Google, Facebook and other big internet platforms have also become indispensable tools for politicians.

What is Surveillance Capitalism?

Unlike industrial capitalism, surveillance capitalism does not manipulate the environment through the use of technologies. It simply manipulates human behaviour. They employ advanced technologies to predict human behaviour, and through these technologies they also convert human experience into data. And then these data are used to sell behavioural-prediction products.

Be it Google or Facebook, or Twitter, or even Amazon or Microsoft, all these companies use the data to manipulate individual search results. Consumers don’t have freedom to choose. Their freedom to choose has been curbed by these companies. They get what these companies want to show them. All this because, data relate to their online behaviour have been captured and analysed by these companies.

Surveillance capitalism threatens both individual autonomy and the viability of open societies.

Evidences of their Impact

  • During the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the US presidential elections, the world had realized that technology platforms are making a real and dangerous impact on entire countries and not just individuals.
  • These platforms played a role in genocide in Myanmar, terrorism in New Zealand, mass murders in the US and Europe.
  • Although, these big internet platforms are not directly involved in any wrongdoing, but their algorithms ultimately fall in the wrong hands.
  • These internet platforms and those who know how to manipulate their business model know much more about us than we know about ourselves. We have not even realized the full dimension of the threats posed by the surveillance capitalists. 

These companies now dominate our lives, often in ways that we do not even realize.

They are neither elected nor accountable to the rule of the land. Yet, they are adversely affecting self-determination and democratic decision making. Their algorithmic processes have become powerful than the might of the government.

How to Control Surveillance Capitalists

Each leading platform company is driven by a clear goal. Some are very clear about their goals. Others hide behind the tall promises they often make to promote their models. If Google wants to organize the world’s information, then Facebook is not much behind. It wants to bring the entire world on a single platform. It is impossible to think about em-commerce without thinking about Amazon. Microsoft have become the technology partner for businesses and governments in many countries. What binds all these models together is the desire to control people’s behaviour.

Policymakers are still in the early stages of understanding how surveillance capitalism works. Consensus has not even emerged whether these new technologies really pose a threat to society.

They tech companies should not be allowed to do their business without any restrictions. They will have to be brought to heel.

Feature Image by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

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