Data Privacy 101: An Introduction to Surveillance Capitalism

The issue of data privacy is of central importance in the modern age, and, given the business models that now depend on metrics gathered via surveillance, it doesn’t seem that it will change in the near future. Furthermore,  much of people’s discomfort around data gathering seems to stem from the lack of transparency and knowledge about what data is gathered and stored, and how that data is used. As a result, and, influenced by education that I received regarding sharing on social media, I do think that education about this issue should be built into curriculums, and that it could be spearheaded by the government.

Often times corporations argue that users have agreed to have their data monitored and collected, however the terms by which users agree to this are invariably written in legalese and buried deep in long contracts that users have gotten used to skimming or ignoring completely because they are so long and often impenetrable. Often, I think, even if users did read the entire document, they wouldn’t fully understand what was being communicated or what they were agreeing to.

If the issue is a lack of understanding and knowledge about data collection and use, then the method of redress should aim to demystify and make transparent the issue of data collection and use. The problem is that, as surveillance capitalism becomes more and more commonplace, and the methods by which data is gathered, and—in fact—the data gathered become more and more extensive, we can’t expect private companies who stand to profit under this system to educate people. It would be great if they did, but they stand to gain too much from people remaining uneducated.

For this reason, I actually think the government could and should assume the responsibility of educating people about data collection and privacy. When I was in high school, we had a number of assemblies and lectures about what sort of information we were sharing on social media. It was framed as a matter of safety, and also from the perspective that nothing that was shared could ever really truly be deleted or taken back.

In a lot of ways, a conversation about data collection is an extension of this issue—essentially, it is still a matter of privacy. The difference is that the lessons I was taught in high school were about information and content I was choosing to share, whereas the conversations we need to be having now are about information that is being collected without our knowledge.

I think that educating people about how their data is collected and used is essential to people being able to make informed decisions about their digital lives. Furthermore, the current structures in place for doing this (Terms and Conditions documents, etc.) are not accomplishing this, (probably because ignorance of this matter is actually in corporations’ best interest.) Therefore, the government should intervene and build education about data privacy into curriculums. It should be something that becomes a basic part of peoples’ consciousness, as digital technology is increasingly becoming intertwined with peoples’ daily lives, and surveillance capitalism may be here to stay.

3 Replies to “Data Privacy 101: An Introduction to Surveillance Capitalism”

  1. Hi Steph, thanks for your response! I’m glad to know that at least you’ve got some lectures on social media during your high school. Not like you, I did not receive any education on digital safety/well-being in high school. I definitely agree with you that government should intervene and build awareness of data privacy into the current curriculum for high school students. Maybe also provide some workshops for people who are not in high school anymore (like us)?

  2. This is a well organized post that lays out the case for government run programs on privacy. The piece would benefit from a few additional sources, especially in the beginning where the author lays out the premise for her argument. While I am (obviously) all for education on these issues (I even included a week on the topic into the course syllabus!), I am not convinced that the main thing that is needed is education. I would want to see us tackle the root of the problem directly, in two ways: 1) to regulate the need for more disclosure and transparency; and 2) to regulate a more constrained use of data. Both of these steps would, in my view, do more to push us away from surveillance capitalism than greater education on the topic.

  3. The difference between choosing to share something and having information collected about us as we carelessly roam an unguarded digital universe is easily confused. A simple digital user would probably not know what the difference is.
    Secondly, I want to hear more of your thoughts regarding terms and conditions. Have you ever read any? If yes, what do you feel is happening in them?

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