The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Overwhelmingly comprehensive research of the big tech corporations that are now controlling our lives. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism can be considered as an encyclopedia that aims to explain how the famous companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon) that we all use in some way in our daily lives first started and are now tracking our every move, analyzing our behavior with the intention to capitalize on our compulsive nature by encouraging impulse buys. Shoshana Zuboff, the author, offers a peek behind the curtains of our common enemy who presents himself as an innovator.  

The Core Idea:

By collecting data about our behavior, surveillance capitalism firms aim to shape and modify our behavior to best suit their financial state while staying indifferent about our real-world desires and ambitions. In essence, surveillance capitalism is an economic system centered around collecting consumer data, feeding it to a machine learning system, and selling and/or using it to tailor their products in such a way, that we won’t be able to escape their far-reaching tentacles. The end product is always a highly addictive feedback loop that is crushing our will to live.


  • Every little thing you do online is recorded, added to a profile about you, and used against you.
  • Big tech companies are collecting data points about our behavior with the intention to shape our behavior based on their desires, not ours.
  • What big tech companies know about you, is not for you. The constantly updating online systems are focus on automating you.

8 Key Lessons from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:

Lesson #1: Big Corporations Collect Data to Shape our Behavior

What is surveillance capitalism?

While embedded in the actual expression, it’s not perfectly clear what surveillance capitalism means or aims to do.

According to the author, surveillance capitalism is a system that claims our experience online, and not only, as free and for the taking. Our actions online, all of them, are used not only to improve the products of big corporations, but also to fabricate new products based on our data and also to anticipate what we’ll want in the upcoming future.

Or to put it simply, through surveillance, big tech companies are making capital. This capital is then used for the creation of even more sophisticated, and more appealing to us products that can extract even more data from us.

On the surface, it looks like big tech companies are offering connection, email services, convenience, and while these services were the starting points of their businesses, now their core goal is to gather more data. This data is not only taken without our permission, but also shaped, sold, and used against us.

The author describes the services surveillance capitalist firms use as “hooks” that lure us inside. Persuade us that what they offer can be beneficial for us while extracting even more data about us.

Shoshana Zuboff argues that the expression, “if it’s free, then you are the product” is incorrect. We’re not the product, we’re simply the raw material that helps shapes the product. And since the new products that are being produced are based on what we do, and want, these products end up shaping our future behavior.

Sadly, we’re in an unfavorable position. Since the internet takes a central position in our lives, instead of fighting back and claiming our data is ours, we let it go and choose ignorance. This way, big firms are getting even bigger and the normal for us becomes heavier chains around our neck.

“Surveillance capitalists know everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. They accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us. They predict our futures for the sake of others’ gain, not ours.” Shoshana Zuboff

Lesson #2: Online Tycoons Offer Personalized Experience in Exchange For Our Data

Before we tackle how surveillance capitalism emerged, let’s observe what actually summoned the internet and the virtual apparatus that are both now inseparable parts of our daily lives.

Years ago, the industrial revolution allowed us to tailor our lives and to obtain things that were previously reserved for the elite only – education, travel thanks to Ford’s model T, better standards of living, etc.

Still, despite the advantages and the improved lives, something was still missing – the ability to express yourself and to amplify your voice.

People, we, as social beings were always eager to express ourselves. To connect and to build relationships.

All immediately changed when the iPhone was created – a third modernity was born. This invention allowed other companies later to blossom and to give power in hands of the little people. Of the citizens who were eager to be heard.

The promise to have the life you wanted, to say what you wanted to say, and to no longer be an invisible cog in the gigantic industrial machine was quickly adopted by the young first, and then eventually by everyone.

Satisfying our inner feeling of self-expression allowed big corporations to infiltrate our lives and silently make us trade our private data for seemingly “free” and “personalized” existence.

We were getting what we wanted but at a price that we were still unable to fully grasp.

“Eventually, companies began to explain these violations as the necessary quid pro quo for “free” internet services. Privacy, they said, was the price one must pay for the abundant rewards of information, connection, and other digital goods when, where, and how you want them. These explanations distracted us from the sea change that would rewrite the rules of capitalism and the digital world.” Shoshana Zuboff

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