The end of a deadline I vowed I would not break. My 6000-word essay on Surveillance still hangs in the air, my bookshelf groans with reference material. This weekend, I visit the British Library again to pull out yet more volumes that I may never have time to read, another subtle tactic to avoid committing my ideas into print.
The old Vic. The American Clock, it tells the story of the 1929 Wall Street crash, reminding us of a story we are familiar with from 2009. I am restless and bored; endless scenery changes drift by and the tightly packed stalls press on my knees, stopping the blood supply in my limbs. My mind wanders over to writing the essay.
Mother’s Day I present the garage tulips to my wife who gratefully accepts them. We meet friends in Hoxton animatedly discussing the past Brexit week. In the evening we take the 38 bus to the ICA and finally get to hear the impressive Shoshana Zuboff presenting her new book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism the Fight for Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
Marc Silver also presented his new film Hello Surveillance Capitalism, recounting Chris Wiley’s whistleblower experience on the anniversary of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook event. Facebook took out full page ads in the US and UK on March 25th 2018 to apologise for releasing data to Cambridge Analytica, the company that supported the Trump campaign and the Brexit referendum.
The excellent Jess Search (Doc Society) moderated the evening.
The launch of Zuboff’s book was coincidentally published when I had embarked upon my essay topic, already taking a keen interest in this subject matter for more than a year now.
Professor Zuboff perhaps spent too long describing the contents of her book and this left little time for questions from the audience, however, it was a great evening and an immense pleasure to have my book signed.
Surveillance studies is an enormous subject. It deserves a degree course in its own right. I still struggle to condense such a huge and complex subject. Also, I cannot deny the urgency and potential dangers that will present themselves as a result of the unauthorised gathering of our behaviour in order to influence and control humankind.
Perhaps a weakness in her book is balance, for it lacks a discussion on the benefits of mass surveillance. Could she have included examples such as climate change monitoring, the disappearance of endangered species, the reduction of biodiversity or the prevention of terrorist bombings as forces for good in the context of surveillance?
As Professor Zuboff and Chris Wiley point out, we do not have to accept capitalist surveillance bundled along with our digital future.
More recently, the EU has passed the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR that came into force in May 2018 in Europe, replacing the 1995 data protection directive.
Although GDPR as a first step, aims to protect the identification of individuals, it does not impose restrictions on the collection of data of the crowd, and does not go far enough. Google and Facebook and others will continue to collect our behaviours unimpeded, despite GDPR.
Implementing a proper legal framework and standards would minimise toxic effects of surveillance capitalism can be greatly reduced, and we may look forward to a more democratic future, but it is up to us to voice our resistance to the bad actors, be they corporations or politicians around the world.
We hear that Professor Zuboff is due to meet with UK Civil servants this week, perhaps this will remind them of the circumstances we find ourselves in today.