How to Protect Yourself in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism

In this article, we'll explore the phenomenon of surveillance capitalism and offer some advice on how you (all of us) could fight back...

Surveillance

Like it or not, we live in the age of surveillance capitalism. Instead of selling us physical products, today’s biggest companies collect our data and serve us “relevant” ads. Or sell us products we may be vaguely interested in.

In this article, we’ll explore the phenomenon of surveillance capitalism and offer some advice on how you (all of us) could fight back. But first, let us talk about the book that pretty much defined the term…

The book

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of PowerThe Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power is a 2019 non-fiction book by Professor Shoshana Zuboff which looks at the development of digital companies like Google and Amazon, suggesting that their business models represent a new form of capitalist accumulation that she calls “surveillance capitalism.”

Whereas industrial capitalism exploited and controlled nature with devastating consequences, surveillance capitalism exploits and controls human nature with a totalitarian order as the endpoint of development.

Zuboff states that Surveillance Capitalism “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data [which] are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later.” She states that these new capitalist products “are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioral futures markets.”

The danger of surveillance capitalism, according to Zuboff, is that platforms and tech companies claim ownership of private information because it is free for them to access, claiming private experience as “raw material” for data factories. There is very little supervision or actual laws by governments and users themselves. Because of this, there has been a backlash on how these companies have used the information gathered.

How can we protect ourselves from surveillance capitalism?

Luckily, there are a few things all of us could do to, at the very least, make life a bit hard for the new surveillance capitalists. Some of the things you could do are:

1. Get a VPN
This is probably the single most important tool you could use today and you should get the best VPN money could buy. Such a VPN is fast, typically operating a huge network of servers spread all around the world. As a result, you get a seamless experience along with advanced privacy features so that you can, for instance, download files via BitTorrent without anyone knowing anything about it. (Also read: 5 Tips to Stay Anonymous Online With VPN)

2. Use an anonymous web browser
Tor Browser is said to be the most secure option but it can be slow at times. The better option is to use Firefox with Enhanced Tracking Protection, or some other privacy-focused browser like Brave and Epic Privacy Browser. Or, if you really like using Google’s Chrome, you can get an add-on that accomplishes the same thing. The most popular solution comes from the nonprofit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, which Privacy Badger learns what services and cookies are trying to track you and blocks them. Another option is uBlock Origin, and there is also NoScript, which comes included with Tor Browser.

3. Avoid using Google
Use some other search engine that won’t collect every bit of information at all times. Instead, go for an anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo. It will not collect any of your personal information or connect your searches to form your digital profile. Other anonymous search engines you may want to try include Startpage and Qwant.

4. Try an anonymous email service
Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail may be the most popular solutions out there, but you know they are watching you, right? Instead, try an anonymous email service like ProtonMail (operated by ProtonVPN), TempInbox and Mailinator. These services typically don’t require any personal information to set up an email account, which could be just the thing you’re looking for.

5. Use an anonymous file-sharing service
Again, forget the likes of Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and Box — and instead use alternatives like Mega and Onion Share. The big file sharing sites are operated by large companies and they do collect all the data they can on our behavior, and what we share and upload is just one piece of their big puzzle.

Furthermore, you could also do some other things, such as turning off location tracking in your phone, avoiding social networks (especially Facebook and its related services), using crypto, and perhaps installing a privacy-focused OS like Tails.

Final note

We do live in the age of surveillance capitalism and all of us are exposed and even turned into products by the major tech companies. Luckily, there are a few things all of us could do in order to make it a tad harder for the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon to monetize on our behavior. We’ve summed it all up in this article and it is our hope that you will embrace some of the advice outlined here and join the revolution to take back our privacy. It’s our right, after all.