Adult Media Literacy in Australia – Interview with Dr Tanya Notley

For most of us, it’s hard to imagine a media-free day. We need media to stay informed, interact with our community, be entertained and participate in democracy. But to do these things effectively, we need a basic level of media literacy. But what is media literacy? And why is it important? RTRFM’s Allan Boyd caught up with one of the authors of a new report into media literacy

Most of believe that media, and media diversity is important, and we consume so much of it – often reading the news from the moment we wake up, scrolling throughout the day – and can often be the last thing we do at night. Social media is by far the most common type of media we use – with 83% of adults using social media on a daily basis. But how well do we understand media? A new study on Adult Media Literacy in Australia provides a comprehensive analysis into how Australians understand and use different forms of traditional and digital media. I spoke with the lead author of the study – Senior Lecturer in Digital Media Dr Tanya Notley from the Institute for Culture and Society at the University of Western Sydney.

Indigenous deaths in custody – Interview with Alison Whittaker

It has been 30 years since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. To discuss I spoke with Gomeroi woman, Fulbright scholar, law researcher, essayist/activist/writer and poetAlison Whittaker – who is a Research Fellow, at University of Technology Sydney.

This month marks 30 years since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The report investigated 99 deaths over 10 years and made over 330 recommendations intended to protect Aboriginal people in custody. Despite this, the number of Indigenous people imprisoned has increased 100 per cent in the past three decades.
Indeed the numbers are stark – When you break down it all down, around three per cent of the Australian population make up nearly 30 per cent of those behind bars.

In Western Australia, 40 per cent of prisoners are Indigenous. In the Northern Territory, it is more than 80 per cent.

Aboriginal people are jailed at 13 times the rate of non-Indigenous people. They are also jailed younger, and more likely to die of preventable medical causes, more likely to be incarcerated for minor offences, and more likely to be on remand. To date there have been 474 deaths in 30 years: why are Aboriginal people still dying in custody?

To discuss this I was joined by Gomeroi woman, Fulbright scholar, law researcher, and essayist/activist/writer and poet – Alison Whittaker… who is a Research Fellow, at University of Technology Sydney. Alison’s recent article on Indigenous deaths in custody was published in the Conversation last week.

 

533 million Facebook accounts exposed – Interview with Prof Paul Haskell-Dowland

66% of Australians have a Facebook account – with over 16 million Australians using the social-media platform every month. And we would expect our personal information to be safe and secure.

But this month, the private data of 533 million Facebook accounts was made publicly available online – causing concern with cyber security experts.

I spoke with Professor Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean for Computing and Security at Edith Cowan University. Paul’s article on the recent Facebook Breach can be found at the Conversation.com

The website to discover if you have been a victim of this and other breaches is: haveibeenpwned.com – and you can add your email or phone number.

 

 

Also here on the RTRFM website: https://rtrfm.com.au/story/how-safe-is-your-personal-information

Neck chains on Aboriginal people in 1958 – Interview with historian Dr Chris Owen

Perth historian Dr Chris Owen from the University of Western Australia recently wrote about the barbaric and illegal use of neck chains on Aboriginal people in WA’s Kimberly region – used from the 1880s – right up until 1958. (Read Guardian article)

Dr Chris is the author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905.  He joined Indymedia’s Allan Boyd to talk about the cruelty of white colonialists and the Massacre Map.

And just a warning: The following interview discusses and describes the brutal treatment of Aboriginal people.

Mutual Obligation and Living Under the Poverty Line – Interview with Professor Kay Cook

As the Morrison government prepares to lower the assistance for Australia’s unemployed to a meagre $44-a-day the mutual obligations test will return. During COVID the unemployment benefit doubled and its now about to be scaled back to below the poverty line.

Jobseekers will now be required to fulfil a litany of obligatory tasks to receive Centrelink payment. But do these bureaucratic requirements help people into work? Or do they create barriers to meaningful employment?

To discuss this – I’m joined by Professor Kay Cook from the Department of Social Sciences at Swinburne University. Kay is one of the authors of a new report: Social security and time use during COVD-19.

Kay is co-author of an article in the Conversation.

What is fascism? – Interview with Professor John Broich

Throughout Donald Trump’s recent reign in the US, the word fascism was often peddled by media pundits and politicians alike.

But what is – and isn’t – Fascism anyway? Let’s find out.

RTRFM Indymedia’s Allan Boyd caught up with historian and fascism expert John Broich from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio for an in-depth discussion…

 

==

As the unrelenting and vociferous noise of former US president Donald Trump subsides – the desire to defeat socialism or liberalism remains.

In many corners of America and here in Australia the concept of fascism has been embraced. And the word has been bandied about ad nauseum.

But what is fascism? Trump often referred to protesters as: the Antifa – deeming them as terrorists – yet the term itself simply means “anti-fascist”.

Indeed, the antifa movement traces its heritage to radical left groups that resisted dictators such as Mussolini and Hitler in Europe in the 1930s.

To discuss the notion of fascism I’m joined by Professor JOHN BROICH from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio – who teaches British Empire and Second World War history.

His recent book was about the 1941 war in the Middle East: Blood, Oil, and the Axis: The Allied Resistance against a Fascist State in Iraq and the Levant, 1941.

His recent article “What is Fascism” can be found at the Conversation.

Facebook’s bullying tactics and Surveillance Capitalism – Interview with David Paris

Earlier this year, in protest of new legislation introduced by the Australian government, social-media giant Facebook killed news-sharing across its Australian platform. The move affected millions of users – effectively silencing thousands of grass-roots activist groups and small media outlets – including community radio.
To find out more about this, Indymedia’s Allan Boyd caught up with digital-rights campaigner David Paris to talk about Facebook’s bullying tactics and the culture of Surveillance Capitalism…

In February 2021, the Australian government passed its News Media Bargaining Code through the House of Representatives.

The new mandatory code promises to “help support the sustainability of public interest journalism in Australia” by addressing “bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.”

In retaliation, Facebook “with (as they put it) a heavy heart,” restricted Australian users from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on its platform. Facebook effectively blocked all ‘news’ on the Australian site.

Facebook’s ham-fisted tantrum was a blanket-bash for many small and independent media outlets caught up in the ban, including community radio stations and specialist publications – causing uproar across the internet.

To discuss this I’m joined by digital comms guru David Paris – who’s article Facebook lets the world burn was recently published in the Green Agenda Quarterly.

To find out more about this, Indymedia’s Allan Boyd caught up with digital-rights campaigner David Paris to talk about Facebook’s bullying tactics and the culture of Surveillance Capitalism…

David is a digital communications expert with over 20-years-experience in the field, having worked for Australian Greens Leaders Bob Brown, Christine Milne, and their parliamentary teams as well former WA Senator Scott Ludlam. He has worked on social, environmental, media and digital rights campaigns with NGOs in the UK, EU, USA, Canada and Australia. He is currently a freelance campaigner and writer and joins me now…


File: DAVID_PARIS_FACEBOOK.WAV
16 mins and 7 seconds (Station ID at 9 mins)

Digital-rights campaigner David Paris talking with Indymedia’s Allan Boyd.

You can read David’s article Facebook lets the world burn in Green Agenda Quarterly.

David Paris’ article: https://greenagenda.org.au/2021/02/facebook-lets-the-world-burn/

 

Christian Porter Trial by Media? Interview with Denis Muller

In an emotionally-charged media conference in Perth last week, federal Attorney General Christian Porter owned up to being the Morrison cabinet minister accused of rape allegations.

Strenuously denying the claims, an often tearful Mr Porter portrayed himself as the victim of a media smear – referring to a “whispering campaign” which could “totally destroy the rule of law in Australia.”  Legal and business experts say there is no “rule of law” issue with the AG. University of Sydney’s Professor Ben Saul told the Guardian it was “par for the course” in the Australian legal system for non-criminal inquiries to investigate potential criminal matters – without threatening the rule of law.

But is this a case of Trial by Media? Despite many conservative publications arguing that it is (),  ABC’s Media Watch says no.

To discuss Trial By Media, I caught up with journalism guru Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, at The University of Melbourne…

You can find Denis’ article here: Has Christian Porter been subjected to a ‘trial by media’? No, the media did its job of being a watchdog at the Conversation.

Listen to the interview (which went to air on RTRFM on 9 March 2021) below.

Surveillance Capitalism: Research Report/Lit Review – Allan Boyd 23 October 2020

Owning all the data all the time: aspects of Surveillance Capitalism

Abstract

This report attempts to survey some elements surrounding the notion of Surveillance Capitalism, a term initially defined by Zuboff (2015) to describe how – by surreptitiously collecting user-data from everyday digital connections between apps, operating systems, devices and their capitalist masters – private human experience has been digitised and commoditised, and behaviour is modified. The paper is an effort to provide a broad literature review of some aspects related to this burgeoning field of research. This report does not seek solutions, it simply endeavours to offer a brief overview of several disparate concepts within this complex digital environment.

PDF of this Article: Surveillance Capitalism Research Report Lit Review – Allan Boyd 23 October 2020

Introduction

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, throughout the Global North, the data-detritus of our digital existence is a raw, natural resource for data-mining tech giants to create rampant wealth – as they quietly invent a highly successful new type of capitalism (Pettis, 2020; Sandberg, 2020). The relatively new hypothesis of Surveillance Capitalism can be described as the economic process of tracking, collecting, analysing, and commodifying personal user-data to modify human behaviour (Andrew & Baker, 2019; Naughton, 2019; Zuboff, 2016). Originally coined by Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff (2015), this predominantly furtive version of digital capitalism utilises data generated from everyday internet use – a user’s individual digital footprint – and allows data-tracking oligopolies, mostly large big-data tech companies and media corporations to reap a profit from user behaviour (Kelley, 2020) – with a view to modify and commoditise that behaviour.

Surveillance Capitalism goes beyond the scope of simply targeted advertising, rather the practice is based on selling predictions of our futures to businesses who are willing to pay for it (Zuboff, 2019c). The Surveillance Capitalists hope to maximise profit by knowing exactly what people will do next – and this is fodder for profit. Notably in insurance, real estate, health, education, government – ostensibly every sector within the contemporary capitalist ecosystem (Zuboff, 2019a) – but at what cost? Does this relatively new economic reality, this secret process of data capitalism without real consent, undermine democratic and human rights?

Literature Review and concerns

Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft – often known as the big five or “FAAMG” – leaders of the so-called now economy (Weinstein, 2020) – develop comprehensive data-profiles of users as they traverse increasingly essential platforms and devices throughout their virtual lives (Wood & Monahan, 2019). This often surreptitious and mostly misunderstood practice of mandatory data collection generously gifts an enormous amount of real-time personal information to a relatively small number of global enterprises (Robertson, 2020).

The big five, motivated by neoliberal market ideals, have been described as the “gatekeepers to all online social traffic and economic activities” (van Dijck, 2020). It is said that their combined services directly and fundamentally impact society, affect democracy and drive the global economy (Maas, 2020; Schia & Gjesvik, 2020). Indeed, during the pandemic recession of 2020, the tech conglomerates – including those producing hardware devices – accounted for around 40% of the S&P 500, with the greatest ever historical share of the U.S. stock market, surpassing even the dot-com boom heights of early 2000 (Amrith, 2020; Kshetri, 2020; Ziemba, 2020).

The apparently innocuous user-data is collected and analysed within the technology frameworks of big data, using widespread sophisticated algorithms, including artificial intelligence and machine learning to create monetary streams – signalling the logic of data capitalism (Robinson, 2020). Data capitalism, in which the commoditisation of data results in a lopsided redistribution of economic power, slants toward those with exclusive access to evaluate that information (Jacquinet, 2019; West, 2019) – i.e. the big tech giants.

As an example, Google’s suite of products, including its market-dominant and highly ubiquitous search engine, its Google Assistant and Google Home products; Amazon’s Alexa; and Apple’s Siri are all potential extraction conduits for personal data to be commoditised in myriad ways (Chaudhary, 2020). Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp to list a few are also prime fodder for surveillance capitalism corporations (Lyon, 2019).

Whilst the “use of personal data in advertising, strategic marketing, and client management is nothing new” (Cinnamon, 2017), Surveillance Capitalism’s goal is to “predict and modify human behaviour as a means to produce revenue and market control” (Zuboff, 2015). This goal becomes easier as more data is created and collected. And data growth is indeed abundant as we consume more devices and consume/create even more data. Today, “the number of smartphone-users worldwide surpasses three billion and is forecast to grow by another several hundred million over the next few years” (Statistica, 2020b). The overall amount of data collected doubles every two years, with an estimated 44 zettabytes – one zettabyte equals one million petabytes or one billion terabytes (Yu & Song, 2020) – by the end of 2020 (Martha, 2020). Recent analysis shows that 3.96 billion people used social media in July 2020 – accounting for roughly 51 percent of the global population; more than 376 million new users since July 2019, which equates to approximately 12 new users every second (DataReportal, 2020).

From this massive and increasing usage comes increasingly massive amounts of user-data. Bigger data-sets allow deeper insights from the data exhaust created from the movement across virtual connections – indeed the resource of residual user-data has become a “data gold mine” for business optimisation, embracing the move toward a digital capitalist revolution through the ongoing use of big data and its cousin, big data analytics (Ochs & Riemann, 2018).

There are many documented benefits of commercial and proprietary apps which, by tracking digital exhaust, can provide useful insights into aspects of life. Data about behaviour can assist with: health issues, enabling users to improve health based on otherwise unknown data – sleep patterns and mental health for example – yet issues of digital privacy and breaches of confidentiality remain (Haidt & Allen, 2020; Lustgarten et al., 2020; Milne-Ives et al., 2020); collecting contact tracing information in a pandemic, albeit often without governance (Leith & Farrell, 2020; Rowe, 2020); in remote work and work-from-home situations, as mobile enterprise applications improve the organisation of people and data, and add value for stakeholders, but may also destabilise once hard-fought-for equitable workplaces (Leonardi, 2020; Molin, 2020).

According to Zuboff (2019a, p. The Definition), Surveillance Capitalism is: “a rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge and power unprecedented in human history.” The furtive way big tech companies, indeed, any company, can mine user-data is often considered ethically dubious: click-wrap, browse-wrap, I-agree-button consent and other ambiguous click-through legal agreements where contract terms are not immediately conveyed to the consumer (Casey et al., 2020; Mozingo, 2020) are widely used. Surveillance Capitalists will claim legal ownership over, accumulate and analyse users’ personal human-experience as a free source of raw capitalist material; raising the “rich predictive signals” (as Zuboff calls it) of human behaviour and turn that into useful behavioural information for their purposes – often in a highly opaque manner. This method of capitalism has been described as a manifest shift from ‘mass production’ in favour of ‘mass predictive personalisation’ (Fia, 2020; Yeung, 2018).

If consumers of platform services care to read the terms of agreements and privacy policies of big tech corporations, they may be concerned (Meier et al., 2020). Facebook’s for example will advise users that all data, as well as connections with other users, or third-party users will be gathered up, shared and used for whatever purpose the company desires; users of Google’s Search and Gmail must automatically accept that their “emails and searches are reviewed for future customizations” and further, “will send the user’s browsing information to Google and its partners” (Vianna & Meneghetti, 2020).

With the ongoing, ever-expanding acceptance of online devices and apps, users of mobile phones, desktops, laptops, tablets, phablets and a plethora of smart devices, generate a vast and escalating volume of personal data as they negotiate their way through the necessary virtual networks of daily life. According to Statistica (2020a), almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of July 2020, comprising 59 percent of the global population. Add to this the Internet of Things (IoT) which incorporates billions of connected devices, sharing data between each other – with minimal human intervention – yet leaving digital traces of packet traffic with every connection. Note too, that IoT is one of the fastest developing fields in the history of computing, with an estimated 50 billion devices expected by decade’s end (Al-Garadi et al., 2020).

Increasingly our lives are wholly dependent on internet connectivity. IoT has enabled the world around us to be linked ubiquitously to people and machines. And whilst the potential security vulnerabilities of a smart, ultra-connected environment are often noisily posited as a threat (Alladi et al., 2020; Yu et al., 2020), the more recent concept of Surveillance Capitalism has so far been overlooked.

The primary purpose of IoT technology is to streamline processes across various systems, to ensure greater efficiency and improve quality of life (Nižetić et al., 2020). From smart speakers, door-bells, watches, cameras, cars, fridges, TVs, toys, thermostats, lighting, medical devices etc, IoT is edging into the regular lives of people across the planet (Langley et al., 2020). Further, the Internet of Everything (IoE) develops IoT with digital relationships between data, people and processes – as the strings and code of real-time data flow between smart systems. Data security, as traffic moves from the pervasive and inexorably expansive IoE ecosystems and into the cloud sphere, is a major factor (Karthiban & Raj, 2019; Nezami & Zamanifar, 2019).

Nevertheless, the accumulated digital data, housed on integrated “cloud-computing” platforms can be collected, analysed and used for further purposes such as digital marketing opportunities for businesses – to enable competitive advantages, and can have significant impact on business profit (Saura, 2020; Wedel & Kannan, 2016). Data scraped from personal experience is entered into a supply chain for use in what Zuboff describes the “new factories,” where Artificial Intelligence creates computational products which “predict our behaviour” (Zuboff, 2019b).

Whilst these “prediction products” are indeed about us – they are not for us; they are not products designed to enhance our own lives. Rather, these surveillance products are computations that endeavour to predict precisely “what individuals and groups will do now, and into the future;” they are sold to business customers who want competitive advantages on future behaviour (Zuboff, 2019c). And, rather than the internet being a mere platform of convenience, in almost every aspect of contemporary survival – in order to live an effective life – users are forced to parade through the supply chains of Surveillance Capitalists.

Surveillance Capitalism is not dissimilar to the concept of platform capitalism. Big tech platforms like Amazon Web Services, which maintains around 32 percent of the cloud infrastructure services market (Stastica, 2020), are focused on building (and owning) the platform systems needed to collect, analyse, and deploy data for other companies to use – the collection of immense volumes of data is key to their business model and these platforms provide the necessary systems to aggregate and analyse huge amount of big data (Srnicek, 2017, p. 89). This platform capitalism – a corporate model successfully demonstrated by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Uber et-al – uses software-as-a- service to disseminate user-data for profit (Dyer-Witheford, 2020).

In platform capitalism every user interaction is a basis for “profit extraction” – trading products/services or selling user-data on to third parties. Digital platform development enables platform capitalists to collect and commoditise data, and deliver bespoke messaging to users as they cruise the surface of the world wide web (Balayan & Tomin, 2020), and as such, the concept merges well with Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism.

As users increasingly leave their digital footprints (consciously or not) across the various pages and portals of the world wide web, this shadow behaviour data from mobile/smart phone usage, social media interactions, credit card usage, search history, swipe cards actions, smart travel cards on transport systems, smart-wear sensors etc – known as data exhaust, digital exhaust or digital breadcrumbs – were once considered waste material. Now, this highly valuable user-data user is described as a consumer digital portrait (Krasnov et al., 2019). Digital exhaust from browsing, shopping, socialising and the increasingly essential daily use of internet services (MyGov, Centrelink are an example) has intensified researchers and marketers to explore the value of the digital footprint (Arya et al., 2019; Huberty, 2015).

Indeed, at the genesis of the internet, this exhaust – otherwise a user-behaviour data by-product – was ignored and considered as waste, but in 2001 the then fledgling dot com company Google, realised these data streams were indeed useful “rich predictive signals” – the behavioural metadata which Zuboff has referred to as behavioural surplus has become a profitable tool for the Surveillance Capitalists (Azar, 2020; Ball, 2019; Mills, 2020).

The utilisation of cloud computing services, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data mining, data sharing, data processing and other data analysis helps reveal insights about user behaviour, enabling organisations and businesses to make more informed decisions to increase income streams (Microsoft, 2020; Wang et al., 2020).

This sheer volume of accumulated user-data – that is, data which cannot be presented, processed, or analysed using traditional technologies – is known as Big Data (Lee, 2017). The rise of Big Data is seen as a radical step up from traditional data analysis and possesses three main traits: volume, variety, and velocity (Ghasemaghaei & Calic, 2020). Volume implies the quantity of data, which are created and stored; variety relates to the different types of gathered data, and velocity represents the speed of data creation, streaming and aggregation (Gerhardt et al., 2012; Kaisler et al., 2013; Sagiroglu & Sinanc, 2013)

Big Data, as Hashem et al. (2015) notes, has three key attributes: the data is abundant; the data is impossible to organise with normal database systems; and the data streams are generated, captured, and analysed quickly. Big Data analytics refers to the methods used to analyse, process and expose otherwise obscure underlying patterns, interesting relations and other insights (Iqbal et al., 2020). Surveillance Capitalists now utilise big data analytics to create new profit streams (Marr, 2017).

In 2020, it is estimated there are over 1.5 billion websites (Forum, 2020). Digitalisation encroaches every aspect of life today – it is a virtual requirement of the 2020 human experience (at least for digital residents of the Global North) to always be connected to a network (Costabile et al., 2020). Access to cheap tablets, smartphones and an increasing array of smart-wear enables network access to almost anybody, anytime, anywhere (Gaines, 2019). Within a relatively short space of time we cannot escape the digital hyperconnectivity of life – where everybody is connected to everybody, everywhere, always. Over the last decade we have become addicted (arguably by design), checking smartphones over 150 times a day (Neyman, 2017) to an rapidly increasing amount of digitality to endless digital content, everywhere and all the time (Brubaker, 2020; Pillay, 2020).

Thwaites (2020) outlines concerns that big tech corporations are rapidly increasing their market control over hyperconnectivity – that the human condition is at stake. Globalisation and technology are:

“promoting a rootlessness for human societies. Deregulation, outsourcing and relocation in the world of work, international business open 24/7 globally, and the powerful technology giants often replacing or overriding the foreign policies of nations and the autonomy of city states, all generate an instability in social life.”

And hyperconnectivity is not just about people, it includes IoT and is always listening, continuously capturing troves of personal information so vast and voluminous the “data deluge” must be stored in so-called data lakes (Beheshti et al., 2020; Laurent et al., 2020).

 

The data interactions between machines, apps, operating systems and humanity’s insatiable desire to document their lives online (via the platforms of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube TikTok etc) mean that a “large portion of everyone’s daily activities and communications are part of a semi-permanent record” (Fredette et al., 2012). Once captured this data no longer belongs to the data subject (Hummel et al., 2020).

 

The implications of big data surveillance are vast. It was not until 2013 when Edward Snowden, a security contractor for the US Government revealed how an expansive global surveillance infrastructure – used by the “Five Eyes” countries (and other nations, including Singapore, Germany, South Korea and others) of the secret service global cabal – monitors and analyses the real time data of millions of citizens (Couch, 2019; Heikkilä, 2020; Lyon, 2015). The big data tech companies implicated in Snowden’s surveillance revelations include Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Microsoft (i.e. the big five) – as well as other big data practitioners use, in Fuch’s words:

“algorithms that use instrumental logic for calculating human needs… automate human activities and decision-making in order to meet those needs. The problem is that algorithms and machines do not have ethics and morals.” (Fuchs, 2019, p. 58)

The same could be said of the Surveillance Capitalists. At its most basic, capitalism takes things from outside a market and configures fresh ways to bring them into the marketplace to create new products and services to be sold and purchased. In the 21st century many natural resources are becoming increasingly depleted – and ironically incorporated and consumed into digital technology – and new sources of revenue are required for capital growth and evolution and a mutation of capitalist thinking is necessary (Fatehi & Taasoobshirazi, 2020; Kirsch, 2020). Hence, into and beyond the 2020s, capitalism demands fresh sources of margins, new things to commodify. Perhaps all that is left within the “systematic coercion of digital participation” for the successful capitalist in the ballooning digital surveillance economy are the raw material resources of human behavioural data (Barassi, 2019; Clarke, 2019).

When 98 percent of information is now digitised there is, as Zuboff (2019b) points out, a “foreclosure of alternatives,” and whilst we may be well aware of the questionable mechanisms of Surveillance Capitalism, users still have little choice but to be slaves to corporate giants. We are literally dependent on them. For example, access to school systems for education, especially in light of COVID-19 and recent lock-downs; access to personal health information; making plans with others, and organising events – the simple act of talking and messaging on a mobile phone creates data for the Surveillance Capitalists (Laidler, 2019). All employ the platforms and propriety products of big data centres such as Amazon, Google docs Microsoft etc. There is little escape.

Anecdotally, to highlight a point, the research for this very project resulted in constant multiple trackers being blocked at almost every new internet page of research, every PDF opened in a new browser created a “Allow Cookies” pop-up box. As key word searches for related papers via Google Scholar, browser data – such as IP address, site interaction data including time spent on a page, device and operating system data and versions, activity across various sites – apparently for insight on user interest, shopping habits and more is quietly collected (CookiePro, 2020). Pop-up cookie notices appear at almost every interaction. It has become part of the necessary journey of the internet and perhaps the gold mine of data payoff must be worth it – at least for the Surveillance Capitalists.

Cookies monitor user behaviour, enabling the cookie developers to identify sources of traffic, track clicks on a page – and by deploying web-analytics tools such as Google Analytics (Ranade, 2020; Semerádová & Weinlich, 2020), are used to examine user behaviour, and transform the collected information into a malleable resource for the data capitalist. With this information, a site can adapt or alter content, and present information accordingly (such as a price-adjustment for frequent visitors; different content dependent on user location) and may target advertising in a more tailored manner (Bornschein et al., 2020) – all with an overarching goal to achieve better profit outcomes and modify the user experience. The data crumbs of internet cookies are indeed currency.

Conclusion

The scope of this article was to briefly examine some of the concepts amid Surveillance Capitalism to help understand where the digital, capitalist surveillance economy may be heading. However, the sheer depth for the subject is far too complex for a few thousand words. Indeed, Professor Zuboff, in their seminal, ground-breaking tome, required over 700 pages, countless academic papers, newspaper and magazine articles, plus online interviews and discussions, but at least according to Lyon (2020), barely scratches the surface.

In summary, user-data is collected, stored and analysed to reside on a server somewhere, alongside all the other user behaviour information, in a data-centre lake in an undisclosed place, without any clear knowledge of what happens to that data. In the 21st century, the bits of information we unwittingly leave behind are the nuts and bolts of an emergent measureless market system – and as we traverse the digital malls and highways in our daily hyperconnected reality, the faceless behemoths of Surveillance Capitalism strive to “transform online behavioural information into data assets, and to attach these assets to advertising product” (Mellet & Beauvisage, 2020) – all to make us behave accordingly.

 

References

Alladi, T., Chamola, V., Sikdar, B., & Choo, K. R. (2020). Consumer IoT: Security Vulnerability Case Studies and Solutions. IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, 9(2), 17-25.

Amrith, R. (2020, 16 October 2020). Tech’s Influence Over Markets Eclipses Dot-Com Bubble Peak The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/techs-influence-over-markets-eclipses-dot-com-bubble-peak-11602894413

Andrew, J., & Baker, M. (2019). The General Data Protection Regulation in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Journal of Business Ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04239-z

Arya, V., Sethi, D., & Paul, J. (2019). Does digital footprint act as a digital asset? – Enhancing brand experience through remarketing. International Journal of Information Management, 49, 142-156. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2019.03.013

Azar, M. (2020). POV-data-doubles, the dividual, and the drive to visibility. In Big Data—A New Medium? (pp. 177-190). Routledge.

Balayan, A. A., & Tomin, L. V. (2020, 8-8 April 2020). The Transformation of the Advertising Industry in the Age of “Platform Capitalism”. 2020 IEEE Communication Strategies in Digital Society Seminar (ComSDS),

Ball, K. (2019). Review of Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Surveillance & Society, 17(1/2), 252-256.

Barassi, V. (2019). Datafied Citizens in the Age of Coerced Digital Participation. Sociological Research Online, 24(3), 414-429. https://doi.org/10.1177/1360780419857734

Beheshti, A., Benatallah, B., Sheng, Q. Z., & Schiliro, F. (2020). Intelligent Knowledge Lakes: The Age of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. In L. H. U, J. Yang, Y. Cai, K. Karlapalem, A. Liu, & X. Huang, Web Information Systems Engineering Singapore.

Bornschein, R., Schmidt, L., & Maier, E. (2020). The Effect of Consumers’ Perceived Power and Risk in Digital Information Privacy: The Example of Cookie Notices. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 39(2), 135-154. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743915620902143

Brubaker, R. (2020). Digital hyperconnectivity and the self. Theory and Society, 1-31. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11186-020-09405-1

Casey, F., Nathan, B., & Brian, C. K. (2020). No Robots, Spiders, or Scrapers: Legal and Ethical Regulation of Data Collection Methods in Social Media Terms of Service. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 14(1). https://www.aaai.org/ojs/index.php/ICWSM/article/view/7290

Chaudhary, Z. R. (2020). The Politics of Exposure: Truth After Post-Facts. ELH, 87(2), 301-324.

Cinnamon, J. (2017). Social injustice in surveillance capitalism. Surveillance & Society, 15(5), 609-625.

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Welcome to Surveillance Capitalism – the tech giants stealing your private data

Surveillance Capitalism is here. It watches your every online movement and wants to commodify your next moment. It’s in your browser and it’s doing it now.

As you read this sentence your internet browser is quietly scooping up your raw digital exhaust and shovelling into a data lake.

From there, AI robots, machine learning and data scientists will organise, analyse and monetise your personal information.

Whatever device or operating system you use to consume these words – in a smartphone, a tablet, laptop, desktop or smartwatch – Apple, Windows, Android or Linux, you create a little trail. And that trail can be used to affect your life.

We are gluttons for connections

Over 4.5 billion people – comprising 60 percent of the global population – are active internet users. The average user spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online each day. And since COVID-19, research shows that 50% of consumers are on social media more since lockdown measures were put in place.

Every day, every hour, every minute we exude valuable bytes into the traffic of the internet ether. As we trek from page to page, site to site, app to app, device to device, phone tower to phone tower, wi-fi to wi-fi, car to desktop, supermarket to gym – the big data capitalists extract the oil from each digital handshake.

Smart, hyperconnected and addicted

Over 90% of Australians own a mobile phone and nearly half of us check our mobile device at least once every 30 minutes. That scroll-and-swipe, highly addictive behavioural information is pure gold to those that have access to it.

Our homes get smarter by the year, with nearly three-million Australian households now using smart speakers. TVs, doorbells and voice-controlled vacuum cleaners all share private information to third parties for consumer behaviour and marketing objectives.

Every time we log in, load a page, swipe an ID or credit card, play a game, use a smartwatch – virtually anything we do every day – we are tracked. We cannot escape it. We are hyperconnected.

We need it: to check our bank balance, pay our bills, to drive our car, to use public transport, to hail a ride-share, to order dinner. We do our tax, we access our health records, we share a workplace cloud, we upload assignments, we check the weather and facetime the folks. All to get through the necessarily digital day.

Digital footprints

Data exhaust – the records and traces we leave behind as we traverse the internet is our digital footprint. We unwittingly, yet willingly gift this stuff into the hands of the Surveillance Capitalists. It happened as you arrived at this page – you dropped a little data nugget. Did you tick the “accept cookies” box? Did you read all the Ts and Cs for every page and app to get here?

Either way – you choose to share your data. Consent to your private data is often assumed. And that consent is regularly abused. A recent Irish report found almost all websites it studied revealed cookie and tracking compliance issues – some with serious breaches.

Stealing our private experience

The guru of Surveillance Capitalism is Professor Shoshanna Zuboff. She is the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

In a recent interview, Zuboff explained: “Surveillance capitalism exists by unilaterally taking – what any eight-year-old would translate as stealing – our private experience, translating it into behavioural data for analysis, manufacture, and sales.”

In her 700-page tome Zuboff describes the: “new phase in economic history in which private companies and governments track your every move with the goal of predicting and controlling your behaviour. Under surveillance capitalism you are not the customer or even the product: you are the raw material.”

But do we know what happens to our data? A recent Deloitte report shows that only 7% of consumers had a very good understanding of how their personal information would be used after they consented to its use.

Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous data contains invaluable information about the choices we make, our actions and preferences. It may include log files, cookies, temp-files and much more – often termed metadata – and this information is generated in almost every digital process or transaction.

Once accumulated, across all those transactions (micro-moments as Google coins them), that’s a lot of data. Image all of it. Generated all day every day by billions of us. It is Big Data.

Once analysed, this data can reveal individually significant information to marketers and business entities. And it works. As I write this article my Facebook feed is advertising smart vacuum cleaners, cookies, surveillance cameras and data lakes ad nauseum.

Data Exhaust to divine your future

In the early days of the web, data exhaust was considered waste. But the then fledgling search engine company Google discovered how the behavioural residue from user searches, can predict and monetise human experience. Even better, they could grab it for free.

The Surveillance capitalists (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple et al) want all your data. They are listening. They need to know the things you say, how and why you say them. The more data they collect, the clearer the data portrait – the easier to monetise your behaviour.

Google says: by utilizing its analytics tools, businesses can “predict future actions people may take,” including predicting the “likelihood that users who have visited your app or site will purchase in the next seven days.” Effectively, Google confidently offers prediction behaviour products. And if your business can predict user behaviour, it can modify future consumer activities.

Likewise, Facebook will “use data from advertisers and other partners about your activity on their websites and apps, as well as certain offline interactions; use information we have about others and their activity; use data like your activity on websites off Facebook to decide which ads to show you… based on information from a specific business that has shared a list of individuals or devices with us.”

Indeed, an Intercept article shows how the social media giant goes further than just a few personal ads on your feed. Facebook will use your data “to train AI prediction models that will be used to target and extract money from you on the basis of what you’re going to do in the future.”

Willingly tracked and happily commodified

Google and Facebook collect an alarming amount of data as you travel the digital universe. And most rational people would not let governments or corporations install tracking devices or establish cameras and microphones in our homes – yet we have.

We’ve eagerly enabled the digital giants to follow us, collect data, predict and affect our daily lives. We should be concerned that despite convenience, a furtive capitalism is at work beneath our complex digital experience.

This new and highly lucrative economy is poised to manipulate as it shares our behavioural data across its murky networks. The issue is what happens to all the data. Who is it shared with and how are we being manipulated for profit?

Surveillance Capitalism is watching. Waiting. Predicting the future…

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References