The Surveillance Threat Is Not What Orwell Imagined


Shoshana Zuboff • June 7, 2019

George Orwell repeatedly delayed crucial medical care to complete 1984, the book still synonymous with our worst fears of a totalitarian future — published 70 years ago this month. Half a year after his novelʼs debut, he was dead. Because he believed everything was at stake, he forfeited everything, including a young son, a devoted sister, a wife of three months and a grateful public that canonized his prescient and pressing novel. But today we are haunted by a question: Did George Orwell die in vain?

Orwell sought to awaken British and U.S. societies to the totalitarian dangers that threatened democracy even after the Nazi defeat. In letters before and after his novelʼs completion, Orwell urged “constant criticism,” warning that any “immunity” to totalitarianism must not be taken for granted: “Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”

Since 1984ʼs publication, we have assumed with Orwell that the dangers of mass surveillance and social control could only originate in the state. We were wrong. This error has left us unprotected from an equally pernicious but profoundly different threat to freedom and democracy.

For 19 years, private companies practicing an unprecedented economic logic that I call surveillance capitalism have hijacked the Internet and its digital technologies. Invented at Google beginning in 2000, this new economics covertly claims private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Some data are used to improve services, but the rest are turned into computational products that predict your behavior. These predictions are traded in a new futures market, where surveillance capitalists sell certainty to businesses determined to know what we will do next. This logic was first applied to finding which ads online will attract our interest, but similar practices now reside in nearly every sector — insurance, retail, health, education, finance and more — where personal experience is secretly captured and computed for behavioral predictions. By now it is no exaggeration to say that the Internet is owned and operated by private surveillance capital.

In the competition for certainty, surveillance capitalists learned that the most predictive data come not just from monitoring but also from modifying and directing behavior. For example, by 2013, Facebook had learned how to engineer subliminal cues on its pages to shape usersʼ real-world actions and feelings. Later, these methods were combined with real-time emotional analyses, allowing marketers to cue behavior at the moment of maximum vulnerability. These inventions were celebrated for being both effective and undetectable. Cambridge Analytica later demonstrated that the same methods could be employed to shape political rather than commercial behavior.

Augmented reality game Pokémon Go, developed at Google and released in 2016 by a Google spinoff, took the challenge of mass behavioral modification to a new level. Business customers from McDonalds to Starbucks paid for “footfall” to their establishments on a “cost per visit” basis, just as online advertisers pay for “cost per click.” The game engineers learned how to herd people through their towns and cities to destinations that contribute profits, all of it without game playersʼ knowledge.

Democracy slept while surveillance capitalism flourished. As a result, surveillance capitalists now wield a uniquely 21st century quality of power, as unprecedented as totalitarianism was nearly a century ago. I call it instrumentarian power, because it works its will through the ubiquitous architecture of digital instrumentation. Rather than an intimate Big Brother that uses murder and terror to possess each soul from the inside out, these digital networks are a Big Other: impersonal systems trained to monitor and shape our actions remotely, unimpeded by law.

Instrumentarian power delivers our futures to surveillance capitalismʼs interests, yet because this new power does not claim our bodies through violence and fear, we undervalue its effects and lower our guard. Instrumentarian power does not want to break us; it simply wants to automate us. To this end, it exiles us from our own behavior. It does not care what we think, feel or do, as long as we think, feel and do things in ways that are accessible to Big Otherʼs billions of sensate, computational, actuating eyes and ears.

Instrumentarian power challenges democracy. Big Other knows everything, while its operations remain hidden, eliminating our right to resist. This undermines human autonomy and self- determination, without which democracy cannot survive. Instrumentarian power creates unprecedented asymmetries of knowledge, once associated with pre- modern times. Big Otherʼs knowledge is about us, but it is not used for us. Big Other knows everything about us, while we know almost nothing about it. This imbalance of power is not illegal, because we do not yet have laws to control it, but it is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Surveillance capitalists claim that their methods are inevitable consequences of digital technologies. This is false. Itʼs easy to imagine the digital future without surveillance capitalism, but impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without digital technologies.

Seven decades later, we can honor Orwellʼs death by refusing to cede the digital future. Orwell despised “the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment.” Courage, he insisted, demands that we assert our moral bearings, even against forces that appear invincible. Like Orwell, think critically and criticize. Do not take freedom for granted. Fight for the one idea in the long human story that asserts the peopleʼs right to rule themselves. Orwell reckoned it was worth dying for.

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Image credit: @gapingvoid

Image credit: @gapingvoid

I have a love and hate relationship with funnels. I can see and love the fact that they could be of benefit to my business and at the same time I hate being in a funnel myself. 

I will share a recent experience with, let's just call him Nigel B. of 'Entrepreneur's Circle' and 'The Best of' fame. UK can probably guess who this person is.

Nigel is a very famous UK multi-business entrepreneur and has a huge amount of knowledge in this area, I have no doubt.

I was persuaded to trial the Entrepreneur's Circle a few years ago for a few months. But what happened was truly astounding, I was bombarded with not only emails, also loads and loads of paper through the post. There was just no way I could absorb all the data that was being pushed through to me, it was totally overwhelming to say the least. This was the biggest mega-funnel I had every experienced and this is quite a few years ago.

I realised I had made a massive mistake and cancelled my trial subscription, unsubscribed from all the emails and thankfully it all stopped.



On the 24th September 2017, I received an email from Nigel, well not him personally of course, it was from It read as follows.

Hi Michael I put something very exciting in the post for you yesterday. It's going to your address: ...and should arrive tomorrow! Make sure you take a look. Nigel 

Actually, it is a very enticing email and maybe quite exciting, don't you think? Trouble is I had unsubscribed years ago, so how did I get resurrected? I certainly didn't remember downloading something from him recently.

Sure enough stuff arrived in the post the following day, it was totally ridiculous and over the top, loads of #fakenews claims from a bunch of his friends etc. No I don't know if it was actually fake, but it just felt like it. It went straight in the bin. I unsubscribed from the email and declared my feelings in the text box on the unsubscribe page.

I know he uses Infusionsoft and I could very clearly see that my unsubscribe was indeed successful.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 09.33.49.png


On the 5th October 2017, I received a text message from him, see below screenshot, I was blown away and fuming, #WTF, how did he get my number, plus I'm on telephone preference service (UK based service to stop spam calls and text messages), so he wasn't allowed to be doing this at all and definitely should have known better.


And it didn't stop here...

On the 6th October 2017, I received another email, titled, "personal message..."

It was one of those video emails via BombBomb, some of you will have seen them. Believe it or not I was first introduced to this kind of video email back in 2005, even before we had broadband, needless to say it died a death then, so I'm pleased it's back, but I was not so pleased to have received this message considering I had actually unsubscribed from his database.


Well of course it was obvious that they had transferred my details to a different database, the BombBomb database. I was not pleased. It felt like throwing a BombBomb towards Nigel that's for sure.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 09.01.41.png

Now you can probably understand why I say that I have a love and hate relationship with funnels. By the way full declaration here, I use Mailchimp automation, but in a very very different way. My objective is to add value to my network, not drive them into a funnel of any kind. 


I have learnt from others like Nigel that this is never the right approach and when people unsubscribe, that's it, nothing again ever!

As I'm writing this, I am also familiarising myself with the new EU General Data Protection Regulations update due on 25th May 2018.

Here's a link to learn more about that for EU and soon to be ex EU citizens. Yes it will still apply even after Brexit.

This will mean changing all funnel approaches by all marketers in the UK (and EU), including my own little 'value automation' and I will for sure be adopting the new guidelines, I promise.

RIP The Funnel.


Did You Add Me to Your Mailing List?

One dysfunctional side-effect of the Internet are email lists and newsletters. I've already questioned whether the newsletter is on the way out in my ’Are You a Modern Seller’ blogpost. 

For over 2 years now I’ve been unsubscribing from newsletters and for the majority of those (95%), I’ve never ever asked to be added to their list. I'm not talking about spam mail. I'm talking about genuine newsletters and announcements, ranging from contacts I know or have met in the past to vaguely familiar people or companies and completely unknown companies.

How did they get my email address?

I know most lift it from my LinkedIn profile and that means they are a first level connection. From my website? Sure it's on there, so they can lift it from there too. From sign-up forms when I’ve downloaded research, white papers, interesting reports? Yep I'm guilty of that. Usually though I remember the ones where I've downloaded stuff and then I quickly unsubscribe from those when I receive the first promotional email.

How then should I get people on to my email list legitimately?

Using double opt-in or better still opt-out! It's the only way. You could have something that folks will be interested in downloading and on that web page you let them know that it will add them to an email list and state for what purpose. If you use the correct process, they will receive an opt-out email after completing the form. This means they can download the content and unsubscribe instantly, without ever receiving another email from you. Now this is real choice for the reader of your content. 

Will they remember you for this? Of course they will!

I highly recommend that you investigate what process you have in place for emailing folks and whether your process is filled with integrity.

  1. Are you scraping email addresses from LinkedIn?
  2. Are you collecting from websites?
  3. Are you using something like Nimble to transfer addresses to Mailchimp?
  4. Are you using external apps to transfer from your contact records to email clients?
  5. Are you adding addresses from business cards?

Please think carefully about these and maybe other processes and practices in operation inside your business. How would you feel if you knew that your contacts or connections were doing this?

Any recipient of your newsletters or email announcements must have had the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to receive your email. And more importantly, at any time they should have the opportunity to unsubscribe.

I'm astounded that some people still use the bcc: method to send their email out to their contact list from Microsoft outlook or Apple mail.

Once you change your approach, you will feel better about your process and know that you are treating your contacts, connections and acquaintances with integrity and respect. 

I know for a fact that this is how you would like to be treated. 


Image credit: @gapingvoid


Does LinkedIn's Privacy Abuse Protection Work?

To be fair, I don't receive a huge amount of spam or abuse on LinkedIn, so I believe that their security systems are sound. Except for this one guy in Ghana, who keeps inviting me to connect. He has around 5 profiles on LinkedIn. His name is Sherif Akande. Go on look him up on search, but probably best not to click through to his profile, just in case he notices that you've looked at him and starts inviting you too!

I’ve reported this fellow now several times to LinkedIn support and their trust and safety department ensure me they are dealing with it. So why does this person still have several profiles on LinkedIn and why does he manage to find me again and again and keeps inviting me?

For me there is something not quite right if someone can do this multiple times. I've blocked every profile of this guy that has sent invites to me, but it doesn't seem to be working, because he just creates another profile and sends another invite. LinkedIn tell me I can't block member profiles unless I'm connected to them. Actually that's not true. You can block them, because I have and when use the URL to look them up I can't find them. So even their support haven't got the correct knowledge about blocking members, which is a bit concerning really.


So what's wrong Jeff Weiner? Why can't your team solve this?

Small kinks like this makes you nervous about your own privacy on these social networks. If someone in Ghana can keep getting away with this abuse, what else can they do?

Sure I could completely hide my profile, but that completely defeats the objective of being on LinkedIn. So why do their support team then suggest this to me, by sending me their help pages instructing me to follow those to secure my privacy. By blocking myself in this way, I might as well come off LinkedIn, as it won't be worth being on there.

I'm not giving up though and I will keep pushing their support teams to highlight this with their development teams and look to solve this.

You can see the thread of my communication with their support team in the slideshare below. I'm far from happy with their standard template response. It really does make you feel like, well, you're not really that important to us, so we will send you out template responses, because it will allow us to close your ticket as soon as possible.

LinkedIn support desk is probably the worst I've experienced recently for these standard template responses. Much room for improvement needed Jeff Weiner.

This is the last response I received from LinkedIn on the matter. In my view they have completely misunderstood the issue, suggesting that I should be more careful who I connect to. A very strange and bizarre situation.