A retired Harvard Business School professor explores the challenges to humanity posed by the unprecedented form of power created in the digital age by corporations eager to predict and control our behavior.
... a doorstop of a book, an intensively researched, engagingly written chronicle of surveillance capitalism’s origins and its deleterious prospects for our society ... [The book's contents] may sound a little heady, like perhaps an overseasoned stew of po-mo economic jargon, but Zuboff will have you asking for another helping long before the book’s end ... Zuboff’s capacious book has room for minority opinions and other forms of dissent. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism may lack a straightforward political program — Zuboff comes across as a liberal, albeit not one who slots neatly on the left-right axis — but it is loaded with useful economic, technological and anthropological analysis ... orks of technology criticism are often expected to provide a few hundred pages of doomsaying before providing a concise final chapter in which the Gordian knot of our problems is neatly and improbably cut. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, with its near-700-page footprint, is thankfully not that kind of book.
It’s a testament to how extraordinarily intelligent her book is that by the time I was compared to an elephant carcass, I resisted the urge to toss it across the room ... Zuboff... has a dramatic streak that could come off as simply grandiose if she didn’t so painstakingly make her case ... Zuboff can get overheated with her metaphors; an extended passage with tech executives as Spanish conquistadors and the rest of us as indigenous peoples is frankly ridiculous, even if I can understand how Zuboff thought the phrase 'rivers of blood' would get her urgency across ... Absorbing Zuboff’s methodical determination, the way she pieces together sundry examples into this comprehensive work of scholarship and synthesis, requires patience, but the rewards are considerable — a heightened sense of awareness, and a deeper appreciation of what’s at stake.
Her book is not without flaws. It is far too long, often overwrought, and employs far too much jargon. Its treatment of Google, which dominates the first half, will strike anyone who has spent time in the industry as too conspiracy-minded, even for those disposed to be critical. Other books...offer more technically sophisticated coverage of much of the same territory. But I view all of this as forgivable, because Zuboff has accomplished something important. She has given new depth, urgency, and perspective to the arguments long made by privacy advocates and others concerned about the rise of big tech and its data-collection practices. By providing the crucial link between technological surveillance and power, she makes previous complaints about 'creepiness' or 'privacy intrusions' look quaint. This is achieved, in part, through her creation of a vocabulary that captures the significance of tech surveillance ... Viewed broadly, Zuboff has made two important contributions here. The first is to tell us something about the relationship between capitalism and totalitarian systems of control. The second is to deliver a better and deeper understanding of what, in the future, it will mean to protect human freedom.