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Surveillance capitalism is a term for the process of profiting from surveilling citizens or consumers. It is often applied to the efforts of companies to market personal data that is gleaned from the internet or mobile devices.
The idea behind surveillance capitalism is that private data has value. This idea is gaining steam with the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms that take in large amounts of raw data and spit out insights for business. Companies now compete to get these insights by providing the raw data that the programs need through forms of surveillance capitalism.
For example, a company might maintain a website where beacons track customer use down to the very detailed mouse movement and bounce rate statistic. They can also utilize mobile apps that might keep track of where customers are and what they are doing, even when they are not in a store or on a company website.
The more extreme zones of surveillance capitalism raise questions about appropriate security and privacy in today's digital and physical worlds. In general, there is a consensus that new business innovations should be enabled without infringing on people's privacy and civil rights. But there is a large gray area that is being debated now and considered when it comes to using surveillance to generate profit. That is where discussions about surveillance capitalism come into play – the term is useful to describe the limitations and controls placed on enterprise technologies.