Zoom (ZM) and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

I’ve been working out most days on a rowing machine in my basement since the pandemic. I mostly listen to audiobooks. I’m closing in on the end of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. It’s 24 hours+ long.

The point of the book, as I hear it, is to elaborate on the now-familiar idea that internet giants like Google and Meta quietly collect and analyze immense amounts of user data, and employ their conclusions startlingly effectively to manipulate the behavior of these users. Sort of like advertising on steroids, with a twist of casino gambling, video games or MAGA …except that the surveillance giants are less than forthcoming about the the enormous extent of their data collection/analysis and the power they wield, especially over the young and vulnerable.

I have two issues with the book: it’s probably 2x (3x?) the length it needs to be and the style is borderline melodrama (although this may partly be the reader, whose other credits are mostly airport-bookstore novels).

The most interesting observation in it was the discussion of Google glasses, which was an attempt by GOOG to extend its surveillance from the written/spoken word to body language. My impression is that while we are generally somewhat circumspect in what we write, have no conception of how much information about what we are thinking we reveal through body language. Google glasses were a failure, though.

It’s now coming out that last March, ZM quietly altered its privacy policy and began surveilling users, presumably for facial expressions more than for the content of conversations erroneously thought to be private.

I find it hard to know what to do about ZM. On one hand, this move suggests to me that AM doesn’t see growth potential in its basic video chat business. The fact that it hasn’t flagged the change to terms of use suggests the company knows users perceive video chat to be qualitatively different from email, in two ways–that the conversations are private and the belief that ZM is making no record of its own of them. What appears to be stealth surveillance won’t endear it to users. On the other hand, what are the alternatives?

Looking at the stock, it has come down from recent highs and is off by about 4% today vs. a 1% decline in NASDAQ. Not a condemnation, but not an endorsement, either.

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