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Why surveillance capitalism has crept up on us

What is the cost of cashing in on global surveillance?
Surveillance has become an unavoidable presence in our everyday lives - it's embedded in our culture. As corporations profit from its rapid growth, inevitable questions about the impact on our society and ethics must be addressed.

Surveillance sweeps over many aspects of our everyday lives in the 21st century – routine interactions with governments, corporations and many other organisations. In an increasingly data dependent world we can't escape surveillance. It is a fundamental element of our experiences, interaction and initiative in countries spanning the global north and south, not least through internet and social media use. Surveillance has rapidly become part of an entire way of life that involuntarily places all of us under close scrutiny, even through mundane practices such as complacent data donation or social ranking.

But these are not innocent cultural developments; they echo and embody an emerging stage of political-economic development, ‘surveillance capitalism.’ Led by giant internet corporations such as Google, this phenomenon promotes data capture and analysis as the new fuel for prosperity and progress. If this conjunction is correctly stated, it raises profound questions about social relationships, for ethics, the politics of data and the life that we take for granted.

The speakers

David Lyon is Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre and Professor of Sociology and Professor of Law at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Educated at the University of Bradford in the UK, Lyon has been studying surveillance since the mid-1980s. Credited with spearheading the field of “Surveillance Studies”, he has produced a steady stream of books. His most recent publication is The Culture of Surveillance (Polity, 2018) and he is currently working on Surveillance: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford). 

Dr Benedetta Brevini is Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Sydney and Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism at City University, London. She writes on the Guardian’s Comment is Free and contributes to a number of print and web publications, including Index of Censorship, OpenDemocracy and the Conversation. She is the author of Public Service Broadcasting online (2013) and editor of the acclaimed volume Beyond Wikileaks (2013). Her latest volumes are Carbon Capitalism and Communication : Confronting Climate Crisis (2017) and Climate Change and the Media (2018).

Peter Marks is Chair of Department of Writing Studies at University of Sydney. He completed his combined Honours degree in English Literature and Political Science at UNSW, and his PhD in English at the University of Edinburgh. His interests include the relationships between literature and cinema, as well as between literature and politics; in periodical culture; in utopias, and in the literary and cinematic representation of surveillance. He has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh; Clare Hall, Cambridge University; and King’s College, London. 

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