In praise of surveillance capitalism – We are all Jeffersonians, We are all anti-Jeffersonians – AEI2nd July 2019
There’s a perspective on data privacy and control that gets little play in the media: Most people don’t much care. And that’s OK. Rather than viewing digital privacy, or lack of it, as an existential issue of modern life that defines our humanity, we understand and accept the tradeoff that drives the internet economy. “Surveillance capitalism” works for us. A lot of us. Most of us.
It works for Erica Pandey of Axios, who writes: “I, like scores of others, have decided that I’m OK with giving up personal data in order to keep getting convenient, cheap (or free) services. Despite the known episodes of firms misusing data, the ease and quality of life under the reign of Big Tech generally seems worth it.”
Indeed, she points to a recent survey that finds 71% of respondents agree with her. Not that folks aren’t worried, too. A whopping 81% have privacy concerns, but only 45% have actually updated privacy settings on an app or account in the last year and a measly 16% have stopped using a tech company’s service because of data misuse.” (Also: Only one-in-ten of us use two-step authentication for our Gmail.) What’s more, younger folks, like Pandey, seem a lot more accepting of the tradeoff than older folks, according to the survey. (They also don’t seem as eager as some politicians to banish the ad-driven business model, not to mention anti-tech activists)
Perhaps this helps explain a recent Morning Consult survey that found the five most popular brands among Millennials were Netflix, Google, Amazon, YouTube, and Target. Among GenZ: Google, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and Oreo.
And it’s not like there aren’t downsides to new privacy regulation, even if business models stay intact. For example: Evidence is mounting that Europe’s one-year-old General Data Protection Regulation is “hurting businesses, consumers and innovation,” according to a Financial Times op-ed by analyst Eline Chivot of the Center for Data Innovation. Businesses say the new rules hinder technological development, venture funding for EU tech firms is down sharply, and consumer trust in the internet has declined.
Moreover, the GDPR appears so far to be pushing marketers to spend more of their euros with Google and Facebook, which was hardly the rule’s intended purpose. From The Wall Street Journal: “‘GDPR has tended to hand power to the big platforms because they have the ability to collect and process the data,’ says Mark Read, CEO of advertising giant WPP PLC. It has ‘entrenched the interests of the incumbent, and made it harder for smaller ad-tech companies, who ironically tend to be European.’” C’est compliqué!
I have to admit my Galaxy Brain thought is that a lot of privacy activists have as much a problem with the “capitalism” part of surveillance capitalism as the “surveillance” part. They like neither the wealth nor disruption that the mostly unregulated internet generates. And it drives them nuts that so many of us don’t share their annoyance.