Law in the Internet Society

Surveillance Capitalism

-- By MerveKirmaci - 03 Nov 2016


The objects we carry around provide seamless connection, yet they also let everybody know more about us.


The networked sphere has increasingly paved the way for surveillance and calculability of human-beings to commodify human awareness and intelligence. Social relations are reduced to the authority of switches that regulate all sorts of transactions. Our moment-to-moment existence is under the records of data processing systems and yet we think we are still free or be able to make a choice. In contrast, as Dan Geer puts it; “This is the last generation in which the human race gets a choice”. What this statement shows, today, our independent space of subjectivity has been constantly mediated by the corporate powers and the human nation has now lost its autonomy on their freedom of choice.

No, I don't think that's what Dan said, or what he means. I don't in particular know what the last clause of the final sentence means, so spelling it out further would have been useful. This is your statement of your idea, which I'm glad you are making in this revision; it's important to be as clear as possible.

In this paper, I would like to discuss that corporate interests abuse the data-processing capacities of digital platforms which was once restricted to the capacity of a human brain. By collecting and analyzing more data, corporations take away our right to be autonomous which is directly linked to privacy and thereby the personhood itself.

But we are not in a position to destroy their freedom of thought, limiting their rights to learn and to think about what they learn, without also destroying our own. So we need an idea which is not about playing off fundamental rights against one another.

Accumulation and Liability

Capitalism is reliant to accumulation of all sorts. In 1900s it was the mass production based on corporate capitalism which then turned into financial capitalism at the end of the century. In the 1990s, the use of molecules and mathematical formulas gained a function to be materialized. Then it was software's time to be commodified and patent law made this non-liable object liable, thus extended the capacity of what's accountable.

I don't understand this latter point. Patent law applied to software in incautious ways causes much trouble. But trade secrecy and copyright did far more work than patenting, as I tried to show.

The ultimate promise was greater consumer choice, greater amounts of data and greater profit which led to more pervasive material accumulation. Yet again, the agency in the digital platform, like its former manifestations, continues to vie for hegemony and restrict the physical actor from existing in any sort of reflexivity.

The corporate powers in the net only allows for its own ideals and level of awareness. Therefore, its main goal is to exercise upon the individual behavior as means of making profit. With access to constant predictability, it goes against the uncertainty of nature. Like the voice of a politician echoed through radio technology, this new agent becomes the new super organism that embodies political power, economic profit and legal autonomy. Furthermore, it is this super organism of today which tries to annihilate the social aspect of human nature.

New Regime

The internet goes faster than any regime past or present in how it records lives, keeps track of human behavior and trades it. Private has lost its meaning. Policies are shaped around big data; and even the White House reports that; "...more and more data will be generated about individuals and will persist under the control of others"(White House, 2014: 9). This legitimacy ensured by the political authorities frankly made commercialization of human consciousness easier and the false consciousness stronger where it is no more hidden in the material, but in the net systems.

Harvesting data is the new trend in which the quantity is more important than quality. As a result, companies like Facebook and Google collect tremendous amounts of data about the very personal details of human behavior. Given that every click brings profit and more predictability, a huge interest is devoted to data access by this exemplars, regardless of its content. They are salient actors in the market now as the power to record and modify the everyday experience is the new legitimate path to sovereignty.


As the means of ownership can only be reached by more and more data, the net read the innermost thoughts of the users without their knowledge. By constantly monitoring them it violates and undermines privacy. Its insidious harm comes from its invisibility, but nevertheless it makes the decision about what to show or not on behalf of the user. What’s worse is that it is not possible to avoid it. Even Foucault's panopticon which used to explain the dictating nature of hierarchy and surveillance, remained insufficient to explain this new network architecture; because in the panopticon the observation of certain behavior could be dismissed once the observed object leaves the physical setting. Conversely, the participant in the net is not unwilling and not capable of ending the observation process today as it was in Foucault's scenario. Whether conscious or unconscious the object continuously acts in the internet and there is no escape from the "Big Brother". Yet, for many, there is also no place to be where the Internet does not exist.


The internet overall repurposes the understanding of autonomy, privacy and freedom. It redistributes them in order to capitalize and modify behaviour for profit. Through data accumulation, the omnipresent structure of the net provides constant surveillance. It is indifferent to individual and traditional forms of production, consumption and employment. Hence, power which was once associated with access to the means of production, is now identified with data ownership. The capitalist who extracts data to control and modify everyday experience holds the power. Surveillance capitalism on that account challenges former evolutions of market capitalism and results in an alternate regime of a new logic of accumulation. It creates new social relations that replaces all traditional forms of exchange, trust and politics. Concepts like freedom and privacy which should be achieved by the rule of law is being obliterated. Hence, it is this new regime that we should think ways to prohibit or slow down if we want next generations to be capable of making a choice as well. It is not enough to disconnect but to reflect on the costs of capitalism’s new data relations in a more collective way for a sustainable ethical life.

What does this conclusion mean: What should we should "prohibit or slow down," with what legal justification, and with what effect on rights we wish to possess ourselves, and enablements to individual and social growth we wish to foster? We got closer to your idea in this revision, but as the conclusion shows, the development of the idea is still somewhat early.


I asked this last time: why are there lists of references when there should be links in the text, so that the reader can check your support or follow your flow of ideas easily. Writing for the Web is a small technical skill, and here you should be learning it.

The most important route to improvement here is to bring your own ideas to the front. Here we have good summaries of a range of ideas contributed by others, and some organization of those ideas within a structure that could be a platform for your own ideas, but they have not yet shown up clearly. Let's try a draft in which the introductory paragraph presents one of your own ideas in clear, compressed form, then develops that idea through the remainder of the essay by unpacking its relationship to ideas written down by others, including objections or doubts bearing on your proposition, and concluding with a way that the reader could take the idea further on her own. Then we will be cooking with gas, as the saying is.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

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r6 - 12 Feb 2017 - 16:16:03 - EbenMoglen
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