Shoshana Zuboff explores the power structure in the digital contemporary society and what big data creates and enables companies to do. This continuous and linear collection of data that prays on our input, behavior and knowledge are the base for the algorithm that is trying to predict our future actions. Zuboff coins the term surveillance capitalism that describes the market in which big data is traded, our past and present movement and behavior recorded, and our future actions predicted.
However, surveillance capitalism has gone even a step further. The vast amount of data collected and the knowledge that comes with it allows the big tech companies not only to predict our actions, but also to direct them. This gives a new dimension to the machine learning arena, because it tips the scales of power in a dangerous way, away from democracy and equality. Zuboff calls this an “instrumentarian power” (p.8) because humans can be manipulated to alternative goals. This process, labels the companies and the organizations that purchase our big data the real customers to the tech giants. Thus, she argues that people are not the product being sold, but rather the “raw material” (p.10) needed for the transaction. The product of surveillance capitalism is taking our experiences and selling the knowledge accumulated based on that data for nefarious purposes. There is another characteristic of the surveillance capitalism and that is the flow of knowledge transmitting in one direction only. The giant tech companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple) know all about us where at the same time their processes, actions and business dealings are kept in extreme secrecy. This business structure sways the benefits away from the consumers. She calls it “faustian” (p.11), because we are feeding the system that has the potential and the power to destroy us, and at the same time we can’t step off the mouse wheel.