Surveillance Capitalism

April 12, 2020

Some fast notes on chapter 10 of Shoshana Zuboff's Surveillance Capitalism.

Chapter 10 - Make Them Dance

The power of action. IoT sensors being able to analyse real-time actions to generate real-time re-actions.

We can see primitive examples of this kind of behaviour modifcation: In Australia, local authorities monitor youth to identify where they generally loiter (e.g. shopping mall car parks, train stations) and intervene by playing loud classical music to discourage loitering.

Three key approaches to achieving behaviour modification:


Architecting choice to influcence behaviour in a predictable manner.

Can be demonstrated in the design of modals. We commonly see the affirmative action button standing out using visual tools such as colour, whereas a rejective action buttons are visually less prominent.


This can also be easily manipulated by negating the wording so that the affirmative action actually performs the rejective action.

e.g. Are you sure you don't want to give up your rights?


Herding relies on controlling key elements in a persons's immediate context. For example, a vehicle beeping when a driver is not wearing a seatbelt orchestrates the driver to put their seatbelt on.


Conditioning is the approach in which behaviours are selected for success by environmental conditions. Think of training a dog to sit by giving it treats: the dogs' behaviour is conditioned to obey using a reward system.

This can also be applied to greater human populations.
Get an education > Get a job > Succeed
Find a partner > Reproduce > Succeed

See B. F. Skinner - Behaviour modification

Quotes from an undisclosed chief data scientist for a much-admired Silicon Valley education company:

“Conditioning at scale is essential to the new science of massively engineered human behavior.”

"The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. We want to figure out the construction of changing a person’s behavior, and then we want to change how lots of people are making their day-to-day decisions. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors and identify good and bad [ones]. Then we develop “treatments” or “data pellets” that select good behaviors. We can test how actionable our cues are for them and how profitable certain behaviors are for us."

Terms: Surveillance revenues

Facebook -“A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization,”

Zubroff summarises the results from the study to conclude that Facebook and other internet companies had the power to persuade, influence and manufacture human behaviour.

“Online messages influence our experience of emotions, which may affect a variety of offline behaviors.”

There is now experimental evidence to support the controversial claims that emotions can spread throughout an online network.

Examples of physical contagions: Yawning, Laughing..