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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Have you ever compared Facebook groups vs LinkedIn groups? [Infographic]

When LinkedIn changed their groups at the end of 2015, there was outrage by the group managers and moderators. LinkedIn had gone one step too far in trying to make groups more accessible to more people. Result?  A lot of groups folded, moved to Facebook.

I'm noticing each day that Facebook are doing many things right, so I decided to examine the major functionalities and compare them on each platform.

I thought I would create an infographic.  Superman (Facebook) vs Batman (LinkedIn).

Points are awarded merely based on the amount of functionality options that exist on each platform. 

There is no doubt that Facebook has a significant advantage over LinkedIn in many areas and it makes it a far better and more enjoyable experience for the user and the manager.

Every business needs to have a Facebook group and indeed there are 620 million Facebook groups already in existence, compared to the very small 2 million on LinkedIn.

I hope you enjoy the infographic.  I would love to hear your comments and opinion on groups?


data about the no of Facebook groups dates back to 2010

Do you have questions about Social Selling and LinkedIn? - *Updated Weekly*

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Facebook, Death and Timeline

Facebook is amazing and with an end of year (2012) forecast of 1 billion people who have a profile on Facebook, it's a brave person who says that they have reached their peak. Even those people who criticise Facebook are eventually convinced by their family members to get a profile and connect with them there.

But one thing that I believe they will be remembered for most is the ability for anyone who upgrades to "Timeline" to have their life history in activities, photos, videos and events for family members and friends, young and old to view.

I have always been fascinated by my own parents' history and indeed my family history. It's even more interesting that my Dad was Dutch and my mother was Anglo-Indian. Can you just imagine what their timeline would look like if I had their full history from their birth until death for me to review on Facebook?

And my family is not special in fact everyone's family is special to them and just think how grateful your children and grand children will be if you were to complete your full life history inside Facebook's "Timeline".

This became even more evident when my father-in-law passed away on the 10th January 2012.  I only knew him a few years, but even in this short time I learned that this man had a very interesting history.  He was a criminal lawyer, a glass expert and an enthusiastic letter writer to national and local newspapers.  He even managed to get on BBC Midlands Today in the past 2 years.  It would have been really interesting to review his full life history.

So the best thing my wife Clair could do, thanks to Facebook, was to set up a Facebook page to allow people to post photos and messages about him. The local press in his hometown, Stourbridge, also included the page URL in their online and off line news reports about him.  I did not have this opportunity when my parents passed away and now anyone can create a Facebook page in the memory of a loved one.

Thanks to Facebook, all of us have a fantastic opportunity to create our own life story there and when we do eventually cross over to the "other" side, there will be a history for our loved ones who remain on earth to look at and remember us by.

So my message to all of you is convert to "Timeline" and start populating each of your years since birth with your key events, photos and activities.  Not only is it a great way for you to review your own life and remember everything you have done, it will also provide a rich picture for your family and friends and understand your history right now whilst you are still on planet earth.


This article is dedicate to John V. Sanders who passed away peacefully on the 10th January 2012.