Cory Doctorow on Existential Risks of Surveillance

Cory Doctorow writes about Surveillance Capitalism here. I think @PrivacyDingus had already linked to this some months ago.

Do you think that Doctorow’s claims generally hold water?

This is what I understood to be the heart of his short book:

Doctorow disagrees that “the right to the future tense” is at risk.

The vulnerability of small segments of the population to dramatic, efficient corporate manipulation is a real concern that’s worthy of our attention and energy. But it’s not an existential threat to society.
He believes, however, that:

(1) Big-Tech’s code inscrutability will, sooner or later, spell systematic failures.

One of the consequences of tech’s regulatory capture is that it can shift liability for poor security decisions onto its customers and the wider society. It is absolutely normal in tech for companies to obfuscate the workings of their products, to make them deliberately hard to understand, and to threaten security researchers who seek to independently audit those products…IT is the only field in which this is practiced: No one builds a bridge or a hospital and keeps the composition of the steel or the equations used to calculate load stresses a secret. It is a frankly bizarre practice that leads, time and again, to grotesque security defects on farcical scales, with whole classes of devices being revealed as vulnerable long after they are deployed in the field and put into sensitive places.

Surveillance Capitalism (and Big Tech monopoly capitalism) will:

(2) abet authoritarian governments using Big Brother

Today, we know that the NSA is spying on a significant fraction of the entire world’s population, and its ratio of surveillance operatives to the surveilled is more like 1:10,000 (that’s probably on the low side since it assumes that every American with top-secret clearance is working for the NSA on this project — we don’t know how many of those cleared people are involved in NSA spying, but it’s definitely not all of them)…How did the ratio of surveillable citizens expand from 1:60 to 1:10,000 in less than 30 years? It’s thanks to Big Tech.

(3) abet online crime, if and when severe data leakages do take place

Any data you collect and retain will eventually leak The lack of a private life can rob vulnerable people of the chance to be their authentic selves and constrain our actions by depriving us of sanctuary, but there is another risk that is borne by everyone, not just people with a secret: crime…Personally identifying information is of very limited use for the purpose of controlling peoples’ minds, but identity theft — really a catchall term for a whole constellation of terrible criminal activities that can destroy your finances, compromise your personal integrity, ruin your reputation, or even expose you to physical danger — thrives on it.

(4) jeopardize sanctuary and the interpersonal intimacy that develop behind closed curtains

See the section entitled Dignity and sanctuary

He also views surveillance capitalism as a force that reinforces the monopoly power of big tech. Surveillance is not itself a rogue capitalism. It just supports monopoly power. Monopoly power also supports surveillance capitalism.