- Paperback: 704 pages
- Publisher: Profile Books; Main edition (30 September 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1781256853
- ISBN-13: 978-1781256855
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.8 x 19.8 cm
- Customer Reviews: 456 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power Paperback – 30 September 2019
Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense.
A must read for anyone interested in power, politics, technology and the future of our fragile democracies. Zuboff is a brilliant mind who connects the dots like no other.<b></b> (New Statesman Books of the Year)
<i>Das Kapital</i> of the digital age (The Times)
Magisterial, indispensable (Observer)
[It] will surely become a pivotal work in defining, understanding and exposing this surreptitious exploitation of our data and, increasingly, our free will ... essential (Irish Times)
An intensively researched, engagingly written chronicle of surveillance capitalism's origins and its deleterious prospects for our society ... This is the rare book that we should trust to lead us down the long hard road of understanding (New York Times)
Groundbreaking, magisterial ... unmissable (FT)
Comprehensive and impassioned ... an important book (Sunday Times)
Groundbreaking ... Aiming to apply Marx's account of surplus value in a time when capital is accumulated through knowledge-based technology, she has given us an illuminating critical perspective on the regime of surveillance under which we all now live (New Statesman)
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Top international reviews
Some parts are good. The content is extremely thought-provoking, educational and ground-breaking; in parts it is quite brilliant and at the cutting edge of the challenges of the digital age. Sadly it is significantly undermined on a number of counts: It is verbose to the extreme and could easily be 50% shorter. The introduction is so poor it could be deleted in its entirety. The author clearly knows her core subject matter but is very poor at articulating her view in a succinct manner. It is extremely repetitive and full of unnecessary padding. There is a woeful lack of editing.
Oddly, it is rather like Dava Sobel's "Longitude" - a thoroughly compelling and fascinating story that is thankfully so strong it just about compensates the author's poor literary skills.
A paradox: It is essential reading but requires a considerable amount of patience to wade through the contextural 'noise'.
A 5 Star story with 1 Star delivery.
The writer is clearly in love with the process of writing, so rather than working things out, planning a structure, and saying what she had to say in precise terms, she just ploughed in. The result is a mess, looping back and repeating herself in very unhelpful ways, dallying in purple passages and twisted metaphors, making up clever-sounding "concepts" (like "division of knowledge") and actually failing to pick out the key aspects of the issue. The pretence at being in some way ground-breaking is dishonest as even the term "surveillance capitalism" is far from original.
A particularly annoying feature of this pseudo-academic approach is that there is no bibliography, meaning that there is not even any point in keeping it on the bookshelf for reference to other authors. To find anything you have to use the index then go back to the pages and follow up the tortuous footnotes many of which are to internet items which may have disappeared next year.
She misses key issues such as the importance of the military origins of the technology (see Yasha Levine:. Surveillance Valley). She makes a pig's ear of presenting the EU's General Data Protection Regulation the key points of which are "the right to be forgotten", data portability between platforms and explicit "opting in". Worst of all she has no real proposals for defending us against surveillance and data mining and doesn't even mention the important DECODE project being undertaken on a municipal basis by Barcelona, Amsterdam and other cities.
For a much more useful discussion pointing to a data commons see Nick Srnicek's article in Economics for the Many edited by John McDonnell.
For example on Page 55 the end of the paragraph reads: "But the lessons of that day had not yet been fully tallied when fresh answers - or, more modestly, the tenuous glimmers of answers as fragile as a newborn's translucent skin-rose to the surface of the world's attention gliding on scented ribbons of Spanish lavender and vanilla." I expect to see this in a Romance novel not a book on Surveillance Capitalism.
By eliminating such indulgences the book could be half the length, more focused and certainly more powerful. I am sure it is an important topic but in the end I did not finish it. I will wait for a more edited version that gets to the point.
Both corporations are primarily in the lucrative business of selling raw material: us. Our behaviour, interests, locations, habits, personalities, as tracked and measured 24/7. To be parcelled up as data points, metrics, profiles, and sold to other corporations. To enable them to induce us to buy, buy, buy. Now. Here. Advertisers are the core customers and beneficiaries of Google and Facebook, even if 'users' get some benefit from the 'free' services they offer. And, as the role of Cambridge Analytics in the EU referendum indicated, 'advertising' now incorporates sophisticated behaviour modification, not just targetted messages or fake news, but direct emotional manipulation. And so on.
All this is detailed by Zuboff. Inexorably. Incontrovertibly. 500 pages of instances, anecdotes, case studies, research reports, backed up by 150 pages of references. A massive demystification.
There are minor problems. Far too much repetition of core themes. Some cringe-inducing prose. A 200 page compressed version concentrating on the detailed information would perhaps be more useful.
A larger problem is the overall framework of analysis. Zuboff is a professor of psychology and she rightly sees 'surveillance capitalism' as the commercial implementation of B .F. Skinner's notorious behaviourist theory of human activity: that we are only what we can be measured to be seen to be doing. Like lab rats. Against this she counterposes Erikson's notion of human identity as a process of emerging adulthood, of finding one's inward self in autonomy and self-direction. This contrast generates perceptive insights into Facebook's 'Likes' and 'Friends' as appealing to the adolescent (of whatever age) anxiously looking for social confirmation from their imagined community. The Facebook generation is constantly 'on stage' and under scrutiny, but far far more than they realise. Any parent will benefit from chapters on 'Life in the Hive' and 'The Right to Sanctuary', the need for a safe private place like home…. provided you switch off the smartphone and all the other domestic sensors.
Zuboff draws out what she sees as the dangers to political democracy and civil society in these developments. But Millenials don't just have identity crises. They also don't have secure jobs. Or affordable rent. Or viable pension options. Zuboff's account of 'surveillance capitalism' is pretty thin on the continuing old-fashioned exploitative capitalism which, after all, underpins Google selling data analytics to advertising firms which sell adverts to companies which sell us shoddy goods profitable enough to prop up the entire ponzi pyramid, with Google's  £532 billion market value and Zuckerberg's personal billions at its monetary apex. How that works is an even larger story, to which, of course, Zuboff has contributed in her previous books.
However, the author’s style takes at least two chapters to get used to. The amount of (extraneous?) verbiage and the number of (unnecessarily?) long words tends to obscure the zietgiest underpinning her crucial fundamental meaning. (She could probably have written that last sentence herself.)
After the first hour the mental spam filters kick in and the underlying text starts to emerge from the fog. The message is clearly that the Information Age isn’t working for the masses. In fact it’s working to impoverish their (our) lives and enrich the 1%.
Numerous good examples are given. This is a work of reference, rather than an easy read. As such it probably needs to be read several times and dipped back into. Readers of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris will be familiar with doing this.
I hope I’m not being too harsh on the style point. This is a complex subject. However, I think there’s a need to avoid alienating the people who most need to be aware of the issues. The invaders of our privacy probably understand it already; and are wilfully ignoring it.
Dawkins gets round the complexity in his books by using numerous footnotes. These can be skimmed over and revisited later. Perhaps this would be an idea for later editions.
Zuboff is a master of the subject, a great storyteller and a staunch defender of our human future. I love her style of writing, which is always lively, thought-provoking and brilliantly argued. Please read this book if you want to understand how huge corporations are exploiting us all and how you can protect yourself from them. Thank you Ms. Zuboff for this superb book!
The social platform giants need a mid-term correction or the internet will descend into a dysfunctional future, methinks.
While it is repetitive, most of the points made build to this terrifying conclusion - we are sleepwalking into a new totalitarianism concealed with soft sentiments about connectivity. Readers feel like they are watching the Invasion of the Body Snatchers - while we are sleeping the Zuckerbergs and Pages are stealing our humanity for their own profit and are herding us to a hive mind future. Well its time to wake up and smell the poison.
Google is evil, Facebook is too, Amazon is joining in and so is Microsoft. Before it is too late - wake up. Do everything you can to wake others, break up these companies, tax them and remove the surveillance. If not, my friends we are screwed.
Oh yeah, read this book - it is long, alarming and probably 100% right.
Ultimately, this read like an overly long self-help book in that there was a 20-page core of a good and important idea surrounded by about 650 pages of overwrought padding. In this case, that padding actively worked against the author’s arguments and left me regretful of the time I spent reading it.
"If you have nothing to hide... then you are nothing" ... is the perfect counter to those that justify surveillance on the grounds that they "have nothing to hide". But what they fail to realise is that when one's inner life cannot operate free from prying eyes and/or without fear of being misinterpreted/exposed, then it will necessarily begin to self-censure - to dumb itself down. And this is just one of the many dangers in which we, as a society, are allowing ourselves to walk into.
This is a long and sometimes difficult read - but its value cannot be understated.