You Are Literally Working for Silicon Valley and Don’t Know It

The digital economy has been called ‘surveillance capitalism,’ but that doesn’t capture how insidious it really is

Jacob Silverman
GEN
Published in
6 min readDec 26, 2019

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Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

DDuring the last decade, thanks to the proliferation of sensors and data-rich devices, a new economic order sprung up around us. Some refer to it as “surveillance capitalism,” a form of accumulation built on the collection and parsing of massive amounts of data. In this arrangement, those who collect the most data can make the most profit (often by selling that data or using it to target ads), which is why companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are among the most valuable in the world.

Surveillance capitalism depends on what the scholar Shoshana Zuboff, whose work has helped popularize the concept, calls “behavioral surplus” — a kind of digital exhaust that is constantly produced and collected. More than just contributing the user-generated content — profiles, photos, posts, likes — that social networks rely on, we now produce useful data all the time, which tech giants collect almost by default, as part of a massive informational dragnet operating according to the logic that any bit of information is potentially useful. (The U.S. intelligence community abides by a similar philosophy, known as “collect it all.”) The…

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Jacob Silverman
GEN
Writer for

Writer on tech, politics, privacy, whatnot. I’m the author of “Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection.”