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surveillance capitalism

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Surveillance capitalism is the monetization of data captured through monitoring people's movements and behaviors online and in the physical world.

Consumer surveillance is most commonly used for targeted marketing and advertising. Marketers combine demographic information with data about people's online activities: their search activity, websites visited, posts and conversations in social media, and so on, to focus marketing efforts where they are most likely to meet with success. In a more direct monetization, many companies also sell customer data gathered through various surveillance channels to partners and other third parties.

A few revelations from a recent FCC PrivacyCon:

Smart homes and associated hardware and software have large numbers of vulnerabilities, such as insecure devices and microphones that turn on without user interaction.

Cross-app tracking through Bluetooth devices is easily conducted without user knowledge.

71 percent of popular mobile apps have no privacy policy, even those that collect personally identifying information (PII). 

Among the websites and apps that do have privacy policies, many do not comply with their stipulations.

John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney introduced the term surveillance capitalism in 2014, in Monthly Review, a New York-based socialist magazine. The concept since reached a wider audience through the work of Shoshana Zuboff, the first woman to achieve tenure at the Harvard Business School.

This was last updated in June 2018

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