The basic argument is that capitalism inherently requires infinite economic growth to function properly, but we are in a world of finite resources.
As traditional resources used to feed the furnace are exhausted, more aspects of life that were previously outside of the money economy must be drawn into it, including abstract things like,
The merits of such theories are debatable.
What is beyond debate is that human thoughts and relationships are already in the advanced stages of monetization.
Prof. Shoshana Zuboff,
a leading expert in the field of business administration in
information technology settings since the 1980s, coined the idea of
"surveillance capitalism" (Big
Other - Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information
Civilization - April 2015 edition of the Journal of
Information Technology) to describe this phenomenon - the
observation and recording of as much personal data as possible to
create highly effective targeted advertisements.
capitalism and privacy
Their ostensibly "free" services, like Search and Gmail, have always been monetized by the data they collect from users. Same story with Facebook.
These systems are opaque at best for the end user. You can never be entirely sure exactly what or how much data they're collecting, how detailed a personal profile they're building on you, what it is being used for or whose hands it is passing through.
Thus the "surveillance"
aspect - it's as if you have hidden cameras recording you all the
time as you move about virtual space.
The lack of regard for
personal privacy and fair disclosure in this process has always been
troubling, but most of the tech companies that have surveillance
capitalism as their central revenue model are simply concerned with
making money by selling things in the most ruthlessly efficient way
The extremes of
The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious Russia-based "troll farm", has been linked to at least 270 fake Facebook accounts purporting to be tied to American social movements.
These fake groups, with names like "Aztlan Warriors" and "Black Elevation", not only fomented dissent by spreading misinformation online but managed to remotely organize actual meetings and protests in American cities.
The Internet Research
Agency was found to have purchased at least 3,500 targeted
Facebook ads to draw users into their groups.
Cambridge Analytica's illicit access to the data of 87 million Facebook users was put to use in targeted ad campaigns in the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
In other countries, it has been put to use in propping up authoritarian regimes by profiling dissidents, magnifying cults of personality and organizing smear campaigns.
These are all neutral concepts when taken at face value.
However, the way in which Google (and companies with similar structures) use them is characterized by Zuboff as "The Big Other."
The Big Other of surveillance capitalism represents a new expression of power by tech companies.
The interest is in simply
extracting as much value as possible from society with very little
regard for the damage caused, which Zuboff sees as extending to
the undermining of democratic norms.
This largely uncontested new expression of power has grown primarily due to the traditionally laissez-faire attitude toward regulating the tech industry.
Tech is in need of the sort of regulation that is applied to industries with the potential to cause great public harm when mismanaged such as energy, finance and pharmaceuticals.
Tech has traditionally
been thought of as an industry that people voluntarily participate
in, but the negative applications of the social capitalist approach
(particularly political unrest and authoritarian support) are
demonstrating that tech practices impact the social fundamentals of
human rights and government institutions.
The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the first of the large-scale efforts to address the societal problems stirred up by unchecked surveillance capitalism.
Tech and big data companies throughout the rest of the developed world appear to feel that GDPR-style regulation is coming to their homes at some point, based on the things they are saying and the moves they are making.
Key features of such regulation include,
The GDPR model provides for substantial fines for companies who do not comply, up to 10 million euros or 4% of annual global turnover.
The logic of surveillance capitalism is born of a state in which the keepers of the data have all of the power and the subjects have none. Thus far this has resulted in a one-sided process of extraction, commodification and control of personal data.
Regulation is the tool by
which to level the playing field and serve the best overall
interests of the "information civilization" we find ourselves in.