“The Social Dilemma” and it’s Exploration of Surveillance Capitalism

Written by: Tara

Edited by: Chris

Visual by: Issy

“I’m very concerned,” said many of the former executives and employees of tech conglomerates when they were interviewed for the documentary, “The Social Dilemma.” The Netflix original delves into the numerous consequences of using social media, from addiction to the rapid monetization power of platforms, and how at the center of it, humans are the “products” being sold. 

While it is technically humans who are being sold, it is more the behavioral patterns and the ability to change them, that advertisers are seeking. Technology has grown immensely over the last fifty years. However, the technology being sold 50 years ago was inclusive of software, hardware, and systems, and was “nice simple business.” Social media, in contrast, has gained more profit than any other industry because they sell certainty, ensuring that millions will see ads through their website, the scope of these companies’ influence is unparalleled. Each app is trying to get its users to spend as much time on it as possible, in order to gradually change what we think, what we do, and who we are. Advertisers want to buy this certainty that ensures their product can be bought and publicized through social media influence. 

The monetizing of human data has been coined as surveillance capitalism. Since personal data has been commodified, it has become one of the most valuable resources on earth. The data gathered by corporations is not only being used to predict our behavior but also to influence and modify it, which has “had disastrous consequences for democracy and freedom” (Zuboff). The data acquired by Facebook and other social media platforms contain billions of gigabytes of user information, all of which can be exploited if leaked or hacked. This occurred during the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016, which even influenced the US election that year, and reinforced the dangers of online data collection including the growing capability of those acquiring data to direct society in their desired direction. The growing infringement on privacy threatens the foundations of user rights. Surveillance capitalists know almost everything about their users, while their operations are designed to be foreign to us. They predict our futures and configure our behavior, but for the goals and financial gain of others. Everything you are doing online is being tracked, measured, recorded and this is an “unprecedented amount of information, more than ever in human history” (The Social Dilemma).

Despite its benefits, technology has ushered in a new era, where people are viewed as commodities and unknowingly manipulated in ways that we are blind to. There must be greater accountability over the storage of personal data amongst companies and all other parties gathering our data without consent. We must all strive to ensure that personal data security becomes a norm.

Works Cited

Granville, Kevin. “Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/technology/facebook-cambridge-analytica-explained.html.

Zuboff, Shoshana. “Shoshana Zuboff: Facebook, Google and a Dark Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” Subscribe to Read | Financial Times, Financial Times, 25 Jan. 2019, http://www.ft.com/content/7fafec06-1ea2-11e9-b126-46fc3ad87c65.