As of the year 2019, nearly 79% of the United States population has some sort of social media profile out there on the internet. Worldwide, there are approximately 2.77 billion social media users and that is on track to reach 3.02 billion by the year 2021. In a world where sharing things about our lives becomes a part of our daily routine, it is important to understand how the surveillance culture of today is rapidly changing from what we once thought it could be.
There is a great book by David Lyon called "The Culture of Surveillance: Watching as a Way of Life." In it, he delves into how our ideas with regard to surveillance have changed drastically over the years. He starts out by talking about George Orwell's book "1984." When the book was written, it is what people thought of when they were afraid of being watched. A tyrannical society that watches ones every move and tries to dictate how each person acts is something to be feared without a doubt. But, the truth is that surveillance today does not quite work how George Orwell predicted it would. In some ways, today's methods of surveillance are more sinister and subdued than knowing that Big Brother is watching you sleep.
Of course, there have been multiple controversies surrounding platforms like Facebook and Google as of late. Whether it be the fact that social media constantly tracks your information or the fact that it could potentially lose it to a savvy hacker, these companies are constantly doing things right under our noses that put us at risk. Unbeknownst to many consumers, for example, is the fact that any mail in your Gmail is subject to being read by a computer at Google. Part of this has to do with the development of apps and source code, but the other more disturbing part of this surveillance has to do with marketing. In order to improve ad targeting, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon collect treasure troves of our information in order to better market products to us as consumers. Many people don't realize, but when they agree to those ridiculously long privacy policies without reading them, they're actually signing away some level of their privacy. The important thing to note in today's society is that if the product is free, then you are the product.
All of this is critical to understanding how we interact with this culture. What scholars in surveillance, like David Lyon, meant to point out is that these small seemingly insignificant sacrifices of our privacy our quickly becoming an acceptable party of our lives. The larger that social media and free platforms become, the more these companies want to insert themselves into our lives. It is even getting to the point where if you don't partake in this new surveillance culture, then you could begin to suffer from a social and/or monetary standpoint. An excellent example of this is how important LinkedIn has become to securing a job. Many people believe that it is a necessity to have a profile in order to land a job. How can you avoid giving up more of your privacy if you are being forced to give it up just to make a living?
Each of these points is important to bring up because it shows how worried we should be about the fluid and constantly changing nature of surveillance today. It is becoming harder to avoid giving up information in exchange for services as those services become more important to our society. It is hard to put together a comprehensive policy prescription with regard to this, but perhaps the most important thing right now is that we must all be aware of how much we are being watched everyday.