Silicon Valley’s Phoenix-like resurrection is a story of ingenuity and initiative. It is also a story of callousness, predation, and deceit. Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book that the Valley’s wealth and power are predicated on an insidious, essentially pathological form of private enterprise — what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Pioneered by Google, perfected by Facebook, and now spreading throughout the economy, surveillance capitalism uses human life as its raw material. Our everyday experiences, distilled into data, have become a privately owned business asset used to predict and mold our behavior, whether we’re shopping or socializing, working or voting.
Zuboff’s fierce indictment of the big internet firms goes beyond the usual condemnations of privacy violations and monopolistic practices. To her, such criticisms are sideshows, distractions that blind us to a graver danger: By reengineering the economy and society to their own benefit, Google and Facebook are perverting capitalism in a way that undermines personal freedom and corrodes democracy.