Morozov on selling personal data

In a piece over on New Republic, Evgeny Morozov (author of To Save Everything Click Here) outlines a version of ‘the attention economy’, in which, because it is mediated through digital media, everything that we do, every way we interact with people, places, services and things becomes an ‘asset class’, and traded in bulk. Ultimately, Morozov’s argument is not dissimilar to Bernard Stiegler’s critique of a ‘generalised proleterianisation‘ insofar as the grammatisation (capturing, storing and sorting as data) of ever-increasing parts of our lives we become subjectivised through systems of calculation at an industrial scale that results in a kind of ‘incapacitation’. As Morozov suggests:

[T]o sell our intimate data in bulk is to fully surrender our quest for autonomy, accepting a life where the most existential choices are shaped either by the forces of the market or by whatever warbe it on climate change or obesitythe government has enlisted us (rather than corporations) to fight. In this world, whether we become vegetarians, and even whether we end up thinking about it, might ultimately hinge on which player (the steakhouses, the supermarkets, the bureaucrats) has the most to gain from this switch. Our data constitutes our very humanity. To voluntarily treat it as an “asset class” is to agree to the fate of an interactive billboard. We shouldn’t unquestionably accept the argument that personal data is just like any other commodity and that most of our digital problems would disappear if only, instead of gigantic data monopolists like Google and Facebook, we had an army of smaller data entrepreneurs. We don’t let people practice their right to autonomy in order to surrender that very right by selling themselves into slavery. Why make an exception for those who want to sell a slice of their intellect and privacy rather than their bodies?

Worth a read anyway, in spite of being a bit dystopian…

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