the book

How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (HtDSC) was published and posted by Cory Doctorow, posted on 2020.

I think of this book as a half critique half essay of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (TAoSC) by Shosana Zubboff. HtDSC criticism is that the original book overstated the power of surveillance and that a conventional framing of monopoly is more effective to describe the current issues that people experience.

The essay is an exploration of the monopoly aspects of the current market and ideas on how to neutralise it. The study of monopoly is broad, with some mentions to intellectual property (DCMA for tractors), search engines, goods delivery, etc.

It continues explaining some of the origins of the current monopolies, with Ronald Reagan era accounts of what I believe is the beginning of neoliberalism. According to HtDSC there is an element of tech exceptionalism that is revisited later in the book.

Government surveillance is also addressed. Departing from traditional moral criticism, the HtDSC criticises that surveillance is not particularly effective and that instead empowers the monopoly that allows the government to extract more information.

In a similar twist to traditional criticism, HtDSC criticises data leaks because of the effect on consolidating power rather that the traditional moral angle of the ownership of the data. Despite the different angle, the author agrees that privacy is a necessity and even agrees with TAoSC on the importance of the right of sanctuary.

The two points of view that inform the proposed solutions are a rejection of tech exceptionalism (this is not new, it is all about power) and that traditional monopoly tools such as antitrust laws are an effective deterrent.

Unlike TAoSC, HtDSC suggests an ideal outcome which is law, tech, society and markets aligning to reduce monopoly power.

the criticism

Cory Doctorow offers a divergent view of some of the problems explained in TAoSC. It boils down to if the surveillance and manipulation aspects are significant or not and which of the two takes on monopoly is more accurate.

If surveillance power is important, TAoSC explains the origins of various mass manipulations techniques and how it lead to international agreements not to use them after WW2. It successfully explains issues with mental health, right of sanctuary, and changes in society .

On this path, the framing of books like stand out of my light or digital minimalism will help to deal with the effects on the on individuals. Freedom to Think offers a plausible solution using human rights effectively to deter manipulation.

If surveillance power is not effective or the monopoly side is more important in your opinion, this book will expand and complete your views. A more detailed account of the media side is Manufacturing consent. Any book on fascism will help with the idea of consolidated corporate power merging with political power (I liked Jason Stanley how fascism works)

The different monopoly interpretations are worth noting. Shosana Zubboff wrote that traditional monopoly laws and remedies would not work because different companies could access to the same pool of data. So even if google was split, the same data consolidation would occur.

Cory Doctorow explained that these issues are still within the concept of monopoly and that new political will and societal changes are needed to fight these monopolies.

I could hardly call this a disagreement, it is just a word fight on the meaning of monopoly.

And a possible solution to one of the aspects of Surveillance Capitalism (or all of them if you don’t believe in the manipulation side of it).