The Ethics of Surveillance Capitalism

Contributed Talk | Day 2 | 10:25:00 | 20 Minute Duration | GG-C
  • Patrick Anderson
    Grand Valley State University Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Digital Studies

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The Ethics of Surveillance Capitalism

Contributed Talk | Day 2 | 10:25:00 | 20 Minute Duration | GG-C

In her 2019 work “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power,” Shoshana Zuboff (Charles Edward Wilson Professor emerita at Harvard Business School) offers a revolutionary look at the history, practice, and ethics of data collection, aggregation, and monetization. Observing that surveillance capitalism undermines freedom by transforming “human experience” into “behavioral data,” Zuboff argues that it is unethical for corporations, such as Google and Facebook, to collect personal data for financial gain. Zuboff’s ambitious project arguably lays the foundation for an entirely new field of research at the intersection of big data and digital ethics. In this presentation, I will take some first steps in the development of surveillance capitalism studies by expanding Zuboff’s analysis in two directions. On the one hand, I will comment on the ethical implications of public-private data sharing (such as the NSA retrieving data from Google) so common in the post-9/11 world. On the other hand, I will highlight the harms of simply collecting data by applying Robert Sloan and Richard Warner’s notion of “merely knowing,” which they reserve for government surveillance, to surveillance capitalist practices. This presentation will be accessible to a general audience, and it will be useful for anyone who uses the products and services offered by the largest surveillance corporations: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Audience members will be more informed about the various moral meanings of private-sector surveillance and about their own connection to such practices.