My book summaries are designed as captures for what I’ve read, and aren’t necessarily great standalone resources for those who have not read the book.
Their purpose is to ensure that I capture what I learn from any given text, so as to avoid realizing years later that I have no idea what it was about or how I benefited from it.
My One-Sentence Summary
This is the best book on privacy that I’ve ever read because it actually describes both the programs that are removing it and the likely, big-picture outcomes once that’s happened.
- Surveillance Capitalism is a malignant type of capitalism based on gathering all information possible from users and using it to control behavior
- It comes from a very old idea regarding shaping human behavior to become more predictable and stable (which they consider to be a good thing)
- Google is called out as the main threat to privacy and the main advocate of Surveillance Capitalism, and she (the author) gives example after example, including Search, GMail, and PokemonGO
- She pioneers the term, “Instrumentarianism”, which is the practice of manufacturing control over the population (my capture of it)
- The earlier chapters of the book are about the specific programs that various tech companies—espeically Google—have for tracking users, and what they do with that information
- She then gets into why they might want to be doing that, and ties it to the early work about population control
- She paints a very direct picture there, basically saying that they’re (Google, Facebook, and increasingly Amazon) part of a conspiracy to create this highly-predictable future world where it’s possible to control the behavior of populations because you know everything about them and you control the inputs into their attention
- She links this work to BF Skinner and some early Google founders who were fans of his work
- I personally found the link and accusation to be a bit strong because I don’t think we have enough information to assign intention—especially since one could build the exact same system only chasing profits. So I think she went a bit far in places with her assumptions about intent, but she could absolutely be correct. I just don’t think we have enough information to say for sure
- Either way, the picture she paints is powerful and important—even if she’s wrong about the conspiracy bit
- The end of the book was spectacular because it goes into the questions we need to be asking ourselves as humans as we build our societies. Do we want to limit freedom and spontaneity to gain stability? What does it mean to be free if you’re being controlled? Etc. It’s almost like it’s 2-3 books in one.
- This is the way privacy books should be written, both explaining the mechanisms but also the long-term negative effects
- This is my #1 book recommendation for the topic of privacy
- The philosophy bits at the end are extraordinary
You can find my other book summaries here.
- One of my only 10/10 reviews.