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For those readers especially that lived through the rise and rise of Google, Amazon and Apple, but only as long as you realise that the last word on the new social man has not been written or even thought yet, Zuboff maps out in painfully detailed maps the new evolutionary thread that has turned homo economicus onto a new trajectory of light paced change
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'.
I am embarrassed to have wasted time and money on this massive, poorly organised and very badly written book. Like so many other twits I fell for it due to the huge publicity it received.
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.
I was really looking forward to reading this book but I read about 100 pages and put it down in frustration. It perhaps needs a better and more forceful editor because the author can't seem to decided if she want to write a flowery novel or an informative and topical book. She uses phases that make no sense and distract from the points she is trying to make. 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.
This large book should be read by anyone who still thinks that Google is a Search engine or that Facebook is a social medium.
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.
Andrew Marr describes this as possibly the most important economics book of the last twenty years. He’s an economist, and he should know. 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.
Possibly the worst book I’ve read all year. It would be twice as good if it were half as long. It would be a hundred times better if the author hadn’t confused polysyllabic words with an effective argument.
The worst thing is – I think I probably agree with most of this book. But it is so turgid and (I hate to use this word) hysterical that I don’t think it will produce meaningful change.
The author clearly sets out how surveillance has become the lifeblood for modern internet companies. I fully agree with her analysis. Although it is written in such a convoluted fashion that I doubt most people will make it through the first few chapters.
Next, it moves on to advertising. Again, I agree that targetting advertising is a nuisance. I don’t think it is particularly evil – but I block it all anyway. There’s no argument presented – we just have to take it on faith that targetting is bad.
I found myself skimming large chunks of chapters in an attempt to find a sentence which made sense. Here’s a typical bit of academic-babble:
We may yet see the founding of a new synthesis for a third modernity in which a genuine inversion and its social compact are institutionalized as principles of a new rational digital capitalism aligned with a society of individuals and supported by democratic institutions.
I’ve read that several times and I’m still no closer to deciphering it. The whole book is like that. Purple-prose utterly lacking in simplicity.
Another section deals with population control. We’re told that in the future, our cars will be tied into surveillance systems. If we drive dangerously, or miss a payment, they’ll be disabled.
At which point, I found myself thinking “…good?” I mean… if you’re a bad driver, what’s wrong with putting up your insurance premiums? If you’re lumped in to a high-premium demographic, why should you have to subsidise the prices of your riskier cohort? Perhaps you can explain the problem to me – because the author didn’t.
The book mentions the story of the repossession agent who helped crowdfund car repayments for a delinquent couple. This was presented as a heart-warming tale – but I found it chilling. Rather than the impartial laws of mathematics, people have to be telegenic and sympathetic in order get out of debt. Somehow, that’s presented as the preferable option.
Finally… Well, there is no finally. There’s no list of tips for how users can protect themselves (download Firefox and use an adblocker would be my advice). It’s just a pure emotional howl of rage. Perhaps that’s cathartic for some, but it doesn’t change the world.
This book is important. Far too important to be this badly written.
This book is by an academic, and it shows. That can be a good thing, but it can also prevent an important message from reaching a wider audience - and at over 600 slightly repetitive pages, this book should not be a best-seller. The writing is superb, the author is extremely well informed. Neverthless I had reservations. The subject is massively important - the ruthlessness, particularly of Google and Facebook, but also of all those companies that will be selling you "the internet of things" in the near future, maximising their (a) spying on you, basically, and (b) manipulating your behaviour - not just (c) their own profits. There is however a bit of a streak of paranoia amidst all these distressing facts. We do have governments, regulations, activists, philosophers, as well as capitalist profit-maximisers, to provide some balance in the future world (difficult as it is against people who spend millions every month on lobbying governments to try and block legislation that restricts them in any way) . And If we have a bit of intelligence and willpower we can also choose to reduce their influence on us and on what we do with our lives and our money. I also suspect that Google and Facebook are not entirely staffed by supervillains, but people with kids and privacy concerns and philosophies of their own. It still remains true that the modern world contains massive resources and convenience for us, that the internet is the greatest thing that has ever happened to business opportunities, and that we need to balance the digital and the real in an authentic life. But if you want to read something fascinating about the latest uses of artificial intelligence and increased data, this book is not it. I recommend "AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order" by Kai-Fu Lee, and "Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life" by Adam Greenfield. Those excellent books will give you a pretty good view of surveillance, government and otherwise, but be balanced with plenty of other interesting information. Something more future-orientated and philosophy-orientated about how to think about AI is Max Tegmark's "Life 3.0", another superb book.