The Globalization of Surveillance Capitalism
When Shoshana Zuboff wrote the acclaimed book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she described the internet in dystopian terms. Tech corporations had gained immense powers over their users through almost limitless sums of data gathered from them. In many ways, Zuboff flipped the traditional dystopian themes of totalitarian government into manipulative corporate greed. Dystopian literature generally describes the accumulation of power as an end in itself. However, Zuboff portrayed a world where power methodically pursued greater and greater profits. She criticized governments for their failure to act rather than a fear of overreaction. Implicit in her argument was a worry that governments became marginalized as tech companies grew in size and influence.
Aynne Kokas offers an important addendum to Zuboff’s thesis. Kokas agrees that the United States has failed to provide data privacy protections for American consumers. However, she recognizes how the dynamics of surveillance capitalism change in a transnational context. China imposes very different rules and regulations on the data private companies accumulate. Moreover, their aims are quite different from American regulations as well. Kokas writes, “Chinese government regulations prioritize Party control over legal transparency.”
Kokas delves into the implications of China’s regulation of its tech sector on the podcast and in her book. She explains how they require companies to store data in China where the CCP has access. Most of the data is limited to Chinese citizens, but they also have access to information on Americans as well. Americans give Chinese access to their data in unexpected ways. The platform TikTok is one example, but many connected devices in the home including appliances open opportunities to traffic data on Americans into China. Surveillance capitalism did not make governments irrelevant. Rather it provides authoritarian governments with a rich source of information without the need for traditional espionage.