I strongly recommend reading The age of surveillance capitalism by Soshana Zuboff.

Context

Somewhere around 1998 I started using IRC and it was fine. The clients were mostly free, the servers had all the messages but I don’t think they were popular enough or the companies were smart enough to make any use of that data.

A few years later, somewhere around 2000, microsoft msn started to gain traction. Microsoft’s goal was to make people use windows so they made active efforts not to allow external clients to work. By that point I was transitioning to Linux so I had to rely on a slightly unreliable experience to connect with my friends. As I moved forward with Linux, I started to use it less often at the cost of not talking to my friends. As I disagreed with the ownership of the data and the network, I moved on.

For a while I tried to use XMPP and jabber but I could only connect with a few people, mainly because of all the networks being pushed by big companies (AOL, Microsoft, Icq?).

Then google started to gain power and acceptance. In 2004 they launched gmail and shortly after a chat service based on jabber. That transition was great as it allowed me to connect to most of the people and keep my setup. Gmail got better and better so eventually it didn’t make sense to use an IMAP client for the email or an XMPP client for the chat.

Around 2005 Orkut became prevalent in my circle. Everybody at uni used it but I remember it not being particularly useful, more like a social experiment. Later facebook would take over and expand very aggressively across personal and not personal circles. I always had a negative opinion of it as it seemed to be particularly explicit on its use of private data.

10 years later most of my rich ecosystem of OSS apps and linux has been reduced to a browser. Beyond facebook, google and the rest, every company has integrated with them and moved to a data collecting, algorithm mediated non free mess. Spotify decides the music. Reddit decides the news. Google decides the content of the searches and the adds. It also decides how to get to places. Youtube decides what to watch. And the tiny space for my own decisions shrinks over time.

The book

So I think the age of surveillance capitalism is mostly a research effort and to put things together and show the direction. It starts with history and how google, after the dot com bubble made them struggle, discovered that with the logs of the search engine they can predict effectively who would click on an ad. Then it explained how this effort continued and they collected more and more data from emails, voice calls, assistant, locations, books, websites visited, etc. How none of this is explicit to us.

All of this collection of data is a symptom of a realignment of the companies way of profit. They want to collect as much data so they can now how to target you better. But this comes with a big price to pay: The more they know you the more likely they are to steal your future choices in the name of advertising. There is a long introduction to Skinner’s work on this matter, a connection between facebook and lossing democracy with Trump and brexit (I recommend Carole Cadwalladr’s talk about the subject). But also the price of feeling addicted to consume information every day, crafted to get to know you better in the name of advertisers.

The relationship between us (the consumers or the raw material of behavioral surplus) and these companies and the rest of the world is slowly degrading because of this imbalance of power. Google has access to most aspects of my personality and I have no access to any data they have about me or share with other companies. The age of surveillance capitalism makes the thought of change necessary.

The action

My 2019 resolution is to get rid of google and facebook of my life; I decided this after years of trying to conform and failing with various other technologies.