Surveillance capitalism – a threat to our privacy?

30 September 2020
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Throughout the world, people are concerned about their privacy. This has been an issue for quite some time. Consumers can be monitored through the use of certain tools and techniques. The data collected in this way offers insights that are applied for commercial purposes. These are risky developments, so it is paramount to understand how this surveillance capitalism originated. It would also be helpful to know how exactly it works and what the dangers are. 

The emergence of surveillance capitalism

More than anything else, the emergence of surveillance capitalism can be linked to technological developments. Surveillance capitalism has taken off since the end of the 1990s and has continued to grow during the early decades of the 2000s. Increasingly more tools and techniques have been developed through which consumers could be ‘tracked’.

Collected information about online search behaviour and maybe even the length of time spent viewing particular websites surely leads to useful insights as to where consumers’ interests lie. Searching for the best way to respond to this knowledge and these possibilities heralded the birth of surveillance capitalism.

How is surveillance capitalism applied?

Taking ‘cookies’ as an example, let’s imagine that you are visiting a website which sells clothing. Although there are a lot of rules nowadays, it may well be that cookies are placed on your hardware. These are small files that are placed on your computer or smartphone, so they can ‘track’ your online activities. If you later visit social media or another website, then you may suddenly see advertisements from this previously visited fashion website. This seems strange, but it’s true.

What’s more, your website behaviour is often used for making analyses; examples of this include, among many others, the most popular websites and the advertisements which are viewed for the longest time.

The dangers and impact on privacy (personal data)

We live in a time in which technology is continuously being developed. Technical developments are skyrocketing. This also applies to the tools with which ‘surveillance capitalism’ can be carried out. Nowadays, these tools offer far-reaching possibilities with regard to insights into online behaviour.

The dangers lie mainly in the impact on privacy. What if the applicable privacy legislation suddenly no longer applies, or is simply ignored? In that case, everything can be made public. Governments, organisations and agencies can learn increasingly more about you, which, of course, is undesirable.

Good developments: The GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been in existence for some time now. This regulation prescribes a transparent working method for organisations and governments in all EU member states. The legislation is clear in ensuring that not everything is possible anymore when it comes to data privacy and personal data. This development is naturally a good thing. We suggest a number of solutions that can strengthen this method.

Solution 1: Transparency by organisations

The first solution is that organisations must actually comply with the regulations. Transparency in privacy statements can provide clarity for consumers. In this respect, it is good to create a certain ‘Privacy Hallmark‘. A mark of quality would be for an independent body to issue these seals of approval if a website sufficiently complies with the privacy legislation.

Solution 2: Correct set-up of marketing tools and cookie policy by organisations

The placing of cookies and the use of marketing tools by organisations should be undertaken with greater caution. The integrated solutions for data privacy should be followed at all times. This is the only way to ensure that no far-reaching data is collected.

Solution 3: Consumer understanding of data privacy

Of course, a certain duty of care should also be demanded of the consumers themselves. We should all be careful with our own online behaviour at all times, by reading the privacy statements of organisations and making sure that we understand the privacy legislation. This will ensure that we have the right knowledge to ensure that our own privacy is protected.

Ultimately, we are stronger together, so it’s vital to make sure that our digital future is a democratic one.

If you want to know more…

Are you an entrepreneur or leader who wants to set an example? Reach out to us to see if our solutions can help you to make a difference. 


Categories:   Privacy
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