Privacy is Power | Carissa Véliz

Summary of: Privacy is Power: Reclaiming Democracy in the Digital Age
By: Carissa Véliz


In the age of digital surveillance and data capitalism, Privacy is Power: Reclaiming Democracy in the Digital Age by Carissa Véliz scrutinizes the precarious state of our privacy. The book reveals how our lives are persistently observed through various devices that collect our personal data, which is then exploited to wield control over us. The summary explores the origins of surveillance capitalism, its adverse effects on individuals and society at large, and the power dynamics between big tech companies and the public. As you traverse this enlightening narrative, you’ll understand the paramount importance of privacy, the necessity for stringent regulations, and the ways to take back control of your digital life.

Under Surveillance Capitalism

Unveiling the extent of corporate surveillance in your daily routine, this article highlights that every detail of your morning routine to your work email is being tracked and how the information gathered is used to influence your decision making.

Do you know that you are constantly being watched? Have you ever talked about something specific and then got an advertisement for the same shortly after? Or have you heard stories about your smart devices listening to your private conversations? These are the visible symptoms of corporate surveillance, but do you know how deep it goes?

From waking up to checking your emails, everything is being tracked and monitored. Your phone manufacturer, service provider, and the companies of the apps you use all know when you wake up, where you wake up, and who you woke up next to. If you wore a smartwatch while sleeping, it tracked your heart rate, movements, and even your sexual activity.

Even having breakfast in front of a smart TV is not safe. It collects your data and passes it to the manufacturer and other third parties. It’s not just the TV; anything that connects to the internet is collecting data on you. Even your games console, e-book, and your tea kettle.

Your car, on the way to work, is busy collecting data ranging from where you go, your weight, eye movements, and the kind of music you like to listen to. Once you arrive at work, opening just an email opens the floodgates of third parties tracking your activity across the internet.

Corporate surveillance is ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid; every detail of your routine is recorded and used to influence your decision making.

Google’s Role in Surveillance Capitalism

The rise of the surveillance economy took us by surprise. Before Google figured out that personal data could be profitable, companies had access to users’ personal data as a byproduct of digital activity – which either wasn’t used or was only used to improve their service. Google changed that in the early 2000s by using personal data to sell targeted advertisements. This business model proved to be highly profitable, and others quickly followed suit. The legacy of Google’s business model has since defined the development of the internet and other traditional non-digital industries. Smart versions of devices are becoming increasingly popular, and citizens have transformed into products in the data economy. However, surveillance capitalism comes at a heavy cost – the loss of privacy, a price that no individual or society should have to pay.

The Power of Personal Data

Your personal data is valuable, and it gives those who have it power over you. Third parties use it to influence, discriminate, and extract money from you. The most well-known use of personal data is targeted advertising, which impacts your life significantly. Companies also use your data to discriminate against you. Inequality is at the core of the data economy, and the lack of privacy degrades freedom, equality, and democracy.

Data Regulation

The use of personal data in today’s digital world is comparable to asbestos. Though it’s cheap and useful in predicting and influencing human behavior, it can ruin lives, businesses, and threaten public safety if misused. The author suggests that data should be regulated like any other toxic substance. With no incentive for businesses to invest in cybersecurity, user data is vulnerable to being leaked and causing irreparable damage. The 2015 Ashley Madison leak is an example of this. The article highlights the importance of privacy as a means of self-protection, referencing the high death rate of Jewish people in the Netherlands during WW2 as a result of census records being plundered by the Nazis. The author concludes that personal data must be protected as its misuse has the potential to cause immense harm.

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