The Cure For Surveillance Capitalism

Now that people are gaining some understanding of Surveillance Capitalism, I’d like to explain how we can – and can’t – protect ourselves from it.

Surveillance Capitalism functions on volume: The more data they have on you, the more valuable each piece of data becomes. What your watchers really need is the correlation between What and Who. Once they have that, all the other pieces – when, how much, in response to what and so on – are easy to put together. That’s when they can sell or trade that information profitably. And so you have some idea of just how profitably, consider that Google (Alphabet) took in $162 billion in 2019.

Remember, these people have access to almost everything you send over the Internet. Anything you send without protection becomes theirs – every email, web site visit, chat and wifi login – and the more they gather, then more money they make.

To make things worse, Google gives free tools to web developers. Using them makes the developer’s job easier, but it also redirects the information that goes through all those sites right back to Google. If you run Firefox or Brave with the NoScript extension (and I highly recommend that you do), you’ll see this almost every time you look.

And let’s be clear about one thing: Surveillance Capitalists wouldn’t fight for your information unless they meant to use it in ways you wouldn’t.

Back in 2009, Google’s boss bragged that he knew what you’d be doing on Tuesday morning, and sadly he wasn’t lying. It has become worse every year since.

The Exits

Surveillance is a real-life Matrix. The very model of the Internet over the past fifteen years – the “forever free stuff” model – is Surveillance Capitalism incarnate. Everything has been rigged against the sanctity of your identity and your personal information. Stealing and using your data is the only way most of these businesses can make money.

So, since a Matrix can’t allow its victims an easy escape, we can more or less forget about some new law saving us. Laws are passed only if political donors will be protected, and surveillance capitalists are among the biggest donors. Laws that gut their business model will not be permitted. Perhaps a few small steps will be made, but you’re never going to influence Senator X better than Facebook or Google.

The first way to escape, then, is simply to not give them data. And that means either avoiding the Internet altogether, or finding ways to avoid the correlation between What and Who. And we do that with systems that look like this:

What you’re seeing here are cryptographically secure mixes. Internet signals (from Persons A, B, C and D) run through two or more random cascades, making identity very difficult to track. What is separated from Who.

Doing this well requires at least two “hops” in separate jurisdictions, so that correlation stays ahead of professional surveillors.

Now I’m going to give you a list of things you want for separating your What from your Who. This is tech jargon, so don’t worry about it until you need to ask questions about anonymity systems. Then pull out this list and ask if they have each item:

  • A jurisdictionally aware network.
  • Anonymous authentication.
  • Their own DNS server
  • Their own key infrastructure.

Encryption Isn’t Enough

Encryption seems to be on everyone’s lips these days, and while encryption is a wonderful and essential technology, it doesn’t separate What from Who. If your Internet traffic isn’t anonymized, surveillance still blows through it. It boils down to this:

  • Encrypted means only that your message can’t be read. It can still be seen. Anyone can learn who you speak to, when, and for how long.
  • Anonymity means that no one knows who is speaking to whom.

So then, you need both encryption and anonymity. Otherwise the people who buy data sets from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will still know everything essential about you: Which sibling you communicate with most often, which vacation you’re interested in, which co-worker you’re closest to and so on, without much limit.

Now you know.