This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later on with next to no spell/grammar checking.
The title of this book says it all. It is Cory Doctorow’s thesis on what to do about the ever-present surveillance from countries, companies, websites, mobile apps, fridges and everything else that’s connected to the internet.
If you’ve been following Cory’s writing, you won’t find a lot of surprises here.
The main idea behind this book is: surveillance capitalism is the product of monopolies and the power that the current tech giants hold is the result of them being allowed to grow by buying out competitors and dominating the markets through monopoly tactics.
Tactics that used to be illegal, but have become possible through deregulation and defanging of the agencies that were responsible for blocking or unwinding merges.
Doctorow argues that rather than tech being a think unlike anything that ever came before, a more parsimonious explanation exists: monopolies are problematic because they concentrate power. And the monopolies then use this power to grow even more powerful — to the detriment of all of us.
That there isn’t anything particularly new here and that monopolies are just unchecked capitalism in action. Why wouldn’t a company do everything in its power to assert market dominance through any means necessary when the share holders benefit and the breaks are not engaging, this a perfectly natural outcome.
One that has happened throughout history which is why the anti-monopoly regulations were put in in the first place. Not just because monopolies can raise consumer prices.
It is a good book and an argument I am absolutely sympathetic to. There may be more at play here, but the main logic: "when you allow monopolies, you get monopolies who then behave with unchecked power" and that this might be the first thing we should focus on solving; that makes perfect sense to me.
The book is positioned as being against the thesis of Shoshana Zuboff’s 2019 book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Having not read it, I don’t know whether its ideas are presented and argued against fairly here.
But the anti-monopoly Occam’s razor is strong even if it’s not the whole story. It is well presented and well argued and I’ve enjoyed reading the book.