Can SSI Disrupt Surveillance Capitalism?

Surveillance capitalism has become ubiquitous today. Let’s explore if Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) can disrupt it? And if so, how?
Nov 15, 2021

Have you ever wondered how the ads you see across different sites and social media channels reflect your recent purchases or browsing patterns?

Well, that’s due to something called surveillance capitalism.

What is Surveillance Capitalism?

Surveillance capitalism is a process by which companies collect your browsing and buying patterns to understand your behavior and accordingly, display ads relevant to you. For example, let’s say, you buy a beautiful vase to give your mother on her birthday. Soon, you’ll see vase-related Google ads on any website you visit and similar ads on your Facebook feed.

Sounds strange? What’s really going on here?

Some companies like Google and Facebook allow you to access different online services through their login. They use a form of internet identity called federated identity, and in the process determine which services you can access through their login. Further, they do mass surveillance of your online activity and capture personal data such as your purchases, search terms you use, the sites you visit, social behavior, and more.

This data is then used to create your online avatar, based on intelligent predictions, and this avatar is sold to third-party companies. The underlying AI-powered engine estimates your age, background, and income potential along with your location-specific data.

Based on all this information, third-party companies display relevant advertisements to entice you to buy the products shown on the ads.

Many of us see this as a good thing because you can easily find what you want with little effort. So, what’s the problem here?

What’s the Problem with Surveillance Capitalism?

Surveillance capitalism infringes your security and privacy in more ways than you imagine because the real commodity that’s being sold here is your personal data.

Further, this data is captured and used in a way where you have little control over it. After all, this is your data and you don’t know where it is stored, how it is used, and where it is displayed. And worse, all these are done for commercial gain by companies that you don’t even know!

In other words, your data is collected and used by third-party companies for their profits and you’re left in the lurch as you have no control whatsoever!

The problem with surveillance capitalism is that it can go beyond just marketing products and services. You can be provided certain information consistently to force you to form a desired opinion about economics, politics, etc. In this sense, advertisements can be used to influence your thoughts and behavior in a certain way. A case in point is Cambridge Analytica’s handling of Facebook data that is believed to have violated American election laws by swaying people in favor of one candidate.

All of these go against the basic tenets of privacy as we know it.

So, what can you do about it?

Is There an Anti-dote for Surveillance Capitalism?

One possible solution can be Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI), a new form of digital identity where you have complete control over your data, know where it is stored, and how it is used. You even have the choice to monetize your data if you choose to, and you get to decide to whom you want to sell your data as well. In other words, SSI empowers you to always be in control.

With SSI, you store your personal data in a digital identity wallet that only you can access. When you have to share your data with someone, simply choose the information required by the other person, compile it together, and send it securely. Any information you share is protected by digital signatures that comprise a private-public key pair. Hence, the chance for a data breach reduces greatly.

Some of the advantages of using SSI are:

  • You know where your data is stored.
  • You can choose to share or not share your data with another entity
  • The data you share is protected cryptographically by digital signatures, so unauthorized personnel can’t easily hack it.
  • You have the opportunity to monetize your data if you choose to.
  • You always have complete control over your data.
  • It protects your privacy and security.
  • Complies with many privacy and security-related regulations.
  • You can share just what you want through a principle called selective disclosure.

Are these advantages enough to disrupt surveillance capitalism? Do you think SSI is the antidote for today’s Internet identity problems and surveillance capitalism? Please share your thoughts with us.

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If you’re looking to build SSI-based applications, check out Affinidi’s dev portal and reach out to us on Discord for more information.

The information materials contained in this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice.

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