The Era of Surveillance Capitalism (Automating Your Life)

1 year ago
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Most people are aware of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Where in a Dystopian future, the world has fallen under omnipresent government surveillance. Well, every piece of evidence points to the fact that this future has arrived. But, it’s even sicker & more blatantly twisted than what George Orwell could possibly imagine back then;

Welcome, to the desert, of the real.

Giant tech companies are spending a lot of money on AI technologies, while their “assistant” products (such as Amazon Echo and Google Home) are being sold at extremely low prices on the market. In addition, these “smart devices” can answer your questions and help you with daily tasks. Although these topics may seem unrelated, they are actually closely connected.

It is not clear how this all began. Many people point to Shoshana Zuboff’s 1988 book, “The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power,” in which the Harvard Business School professor discusses the benevolent dilemma of automation and the future of workers, as laying the foundations for how modern capitalism would approach computerization in the future. Fast forward a few decades:

“Hey, Siri!”

‘Siri’ | © The Verge

Nowadays, everybody has developed a “Virtual Assistant”: Amazon with Echo, Google with Google Assistant, Apple with Siri, Samsung with Bixby, and even Xiaomi has one now, with the utterly cheesy name “Xiao Ai”. Although Xiaomi’s marketing department doesn’t look so creative, this relatively new company invested a ton of money since the beginning to build their own virtual assistant instead of, for example, using Google’s Open-Source assistant. But why?

It all comes down to data mining. In this era, marketers need to know what time you go to sleep, what time you wake up, where you work, what you eat, what colors you like, what music you listen to, what interests you, what annoys you, and every other piece of information they can gather about you. The plan is simple: serve you with the next product. Ram down your throat the next “targeted ad”. All with one ultimate goal: To automate you.

Your “footprints” are cataloged.

It has been a long time since the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal dominated global news and revealed the dark practices that sent shockwaves through the matrix. This was a case where Facebook acted as the “Siri” for anyone who could afford it: “Hey, Zuck, what day of the week are millennials who listen to Taylor Swift most likely to shop online?” and Facebook provided the data for a hefty fee, based on recorded behavior on their platform. This should not be confused with the targeted ads the platform offers to any common person willing to spend five dollars. We are in the wholesale business here, the creme de la creme of soulless capitalists.

Every piece of code created by Facebook and now living in 99,9% of websites on the internet has several auspicious uses, but one sinister goal: to track.

However, this method lacks one critical factor: continuity. Although Facebook went to great lengths to ensure its tracking code runs on virtually all websites, it can’t track you if you aren’t on the internet. Therefore, you are partially unexploited, which is ineffective for marketers.

Enter: The exploitation Assistant!

It all starts with something like: “Hey Google, tell me a recipe about gluten-free bread” and… Boom! With one simple, innocent question, right out of the gate the AI tracked & cataloged 3 things: This person has spare time, doesn’t mind cooking, and probably has some allergy (or a special diet). Keyword: Gluten-free. You could break this data down even further (according to date, time, sex, geolocation, etc.), or make an even more “meaty” example (no pun intended) but, you get the point. Every single search query you type, every single question you make, and every single habit you have is cataloged meticulously. According to repentance.

Not only through your house, but through your car (“Hey Mercedes“!), your work, everywhere you are. 24/7, 365. Not for some imaginary dictatorship, George Orwell wrote about, but to buy the next shitty product. And although people might have started already feeling numb to these facts, the scariest part of all is that these are just the stepping stones to the goose that will lay the golden eggs of data mining. The gigabytes of data printed into all human beings:

The DNA.

23andMe Logo

Take 23andMe, the most well-known company in the genomics industry, for example. In recent years, it has gained massive popularity, particularly in the US. Marketed under the motto “Trace your path back thousands of years,” it is essentially a $79 test kit where you spit your saliva into a tube, send it back, and receive the results of your ancestral path in a certain number of days. These results are often vague and unclear, such as “broadly European” or “central Asian,” etc. YouTube is full of videos about this test because 23andMe has heavily promoted it, with numerous paid placements on popular YouTubers. However, things become murky when you consider the founder and CEO of 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki. She is a heavily promoted figure in US media and the ex-wife (since 2015) of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, the parent company of all data mining and the one that started it all back in the 2000s.

Anne Wojcicki | © Quartz

One might ask, “Does $79 cover the operational cost of a DNA test?” Probably not. But the long-term benefits outweigh the initial expenses. This DNA cataloging has significant implications in the medical field and a variety of other sectors. For instance, they can learn about your future health and which inherited diseases may appear long before you do, and then serve you with treatment offers and prescription ads, or sell the information to interested parties (such as pharmaceutical companies). With the right data, you could be a subscriber for life. This is the holy grail of targeted marketing. Targeted down to the last nucleotide of your DNA.

Automated Societies

It all comes down to this: a society where our needs and desires are cataloged and served as soon as there is sufficient balance in our bank accounts and all data points to an imminent sale. We are already seeing small fragments of this in our daily lives, but it’s about to get much deeper – so deep that George Orwell would be dumbfounded.

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