The Surveillance Capitalist's Playbook

Disclaimer: This is purely fictional, no real persons or incidents were used in making this playbook, etc.

Imagine running a corporation that’s funded by venture capital or is being publicly traded. You have an obligation to your investors/shareholders to show some growth quarter to quarter. Your only revenue source is advertising. If your site has too many ads, you drive away users. So, you start making your apps addictive so that users are exposed to more ads. You also start disguising ads as content. Still, there’s only so many ads you can show, since your users’ time is limited.

Once you’ve hit the peak number of ads, your only other option is to improve the click-through rates of the ads. You start collecting hundreds of behavioral attributes about your users to be able to serve them the right ads at the right moment. Since profits are more important than people and your users are basically like cattle anyway, you start data-mining their entire lives. You start recording their every online action, recording their private conversations at home and start selling people “smart” video cameras and speakers. Meanwhile, you find yourself spending some of your billions to buy private islands and all the houses surrounding yours!

Your advertisements powered by machine learning algorithms are now getting creepy. People find that they’re getting baby ads before they know they’re pregnant. They see ads in your apps for words that they uttered in casual conversations. Your messaging apps are now putting words into users’ mouths with suggested replies. You start brain-washing your users into believing your lies like “privacy is dead”, “you have nothing to hide”, “there are no alternatives”, “we value your privacy” etc. The fun part is, the same manipulative tactics you use to sell your users stuff they don’t need, can be used to brainwash them into believing your lies.

You start ramping up your public relations and lobbying budget now that human rights activists are fighting against you. But governments want in on the manipulative power of the infrastructure you’ve built. You strike deals with them and use lobbying to crush all competition and legitimize your privacy and human rights violations. You start selling surveillance as a service to law enforcement and put backdoors into all of your proprietary apps while protecting yourself using DRM and DMCA.

Now that you’re reasonably safe from legal consequences, you start spending some of your billions to protect yourself from the impending climate crisis which was made much worse by propagandists using your platforms to spread lies and fake news. Your platforms are also being used by big data mercenaries to manipulate elections, so you donate to both the major political parties to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, mainstream publications start blaming you for the role your platforms played in causing genocides in third-world countries. Though you’re a bit shocked by this since you consider yourself to be a good person inside, you recover from this by reading a bit of Ayn Rand, shrugging away your responsibility and starting your own propaganda podcast.

(to be continued…)