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(en) France, Ist Congress of the UCL - Against surveillance capitalism and the technopolice (Fougeres, 28-30 August 2021) (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Sun, 12 Sep 2021 07:53:20 +0300

The introduction of digital technology and the Internet in our daily lives (computers, telephones, but also connected objects, metro passes, biometric passports, drones, etc.) has undeniably transformed society. It has therefore transformed capitalism, which makes society. UCL must update its analysis of capitalism by integrating these transformations. ---- The monitoring of capitalism is, according to sociologist states Shoshana Zuboff-unienne (the "face" of the concept), the form of capitalism emerged in the 2000s at Google, specializing in the extraction of personal data, their refining and trade of the products obtained. The sources of personal data are online services (search engines, social networks, video on demand, "cloud computing", etc.), connected objects ("Internet of things"), etc.

The technopolice is, according to the manifesto of the campaign of the same name (in which the UCL is a stakeholder), the placing under total surveillance of urban space for police purposes. More generally, it is the surveillance of the entire population (not just urban) by the State using digital solutions.

The two concepts are interdependent. Far from a divorce between the States and the private digital sector, staged by the dominant media with each announcement of a law unfavorable to Gafam (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft), surveillance capitalism and the technopolice are jointly develop thanks to a connivance between the two parties. In the West, the digital giants, Gafam, Zoom, Twitter and Uber, are staging their independence while deploying intense lobbying to win public-private partnerships such as the Health Data Hub (platform for French health data fallen into Microsoft's hands) or impose products like the anti-covid19 tracking application from Apple and Google. In China, connivance is even more explicit, since Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi, the Chinese Gafam, are officially supported by the state and benefit, for example, from protectionist measures slowing down the establishment of the Gafam. States buy the products of digital giants and allow monopoly concentration to take place despite antitrust laws, and, in return, companies offer their surveillance capabilities to police states.

Surveillance capitalism, a break ?
Arguments in favor of breaking up

For Shoshana Zuboff, surveillance capitalism is a break in the history of capitalism comparable to Fordism.

The ability of surveillance capitalists to spy on our every move (by default, each Android device is tracked in real time 24 hours a day by Google Maps), to predict our future behavior (analysis of big data or big data ) and, above all, to influence them (three examples: targeted advertising, the Cambridge Analytica scandal of electoral manipulation and the game Pokémon Go which leads players to the door of a merchant who paid expressly for it), is a unprecedented threat to our freedoms.

The raw material for personal data is dematerialized and free, an unprecedented combination in the history of capitalism.

The capitalist exploitation of this raw material is so profitable that the online services of two of the leaders of current capitalism, Google and Facebook, are free: these services are not consumer goods, they are personal data traps. . More quantified, in 2019 the activity of online services represented for Amazon (whose main apparent activity is however online sales, not surveillance) 12% of turnover but half of profits (2 , $ 2 billion).

More generally, the specific markets of this capitalism are very attractive. The historical vendors of operating systems Apple and Microsoft have largely shifted their focus to online services, in order to better compete with Google, Facebook and Amazon, and the Gafams form the top 5 by current market capitalization (with an all-time high of 1000 billion for Apple). Other figures: in 2013 the personal data brokerage sector represented an estimated annual turnover of 200 billion dollars in the United States, nearly three times the total annual budget allocated by the United States government to its services intelligence. Titanic figures probably largely exceeded in 2020,

The historical players in the "real" economy and the former public services have also taken hold of the data market, in particular via the Linky, Gazpar etc. devices.

If the raw material is personal data, then what is the role of Internet users in the production chain ? Consumption ? Mine raw material ? Free work ? A mixture of the three ? This question is unprecedented.

Arguments against breaking up

For the Canadian-British journalist Cory Doctorow, the first characteristic of the digital giants is not their power of prediction and of influence. This is their main selling point, but much of it would actually be a lie. We know, for example, that facial recognition inherits racist and sexist biases in society and has high failure rates against blacks and women in the United States. Likewise, the PRISM mass surveillance program, revealed by Edward Snowden, cost more than $ 100 million but did not prevent a single terrorist attack. The characteristic of the digital giants would rather be their monopolistic ambition. And monopoly is not a new phenomenon.

For the French sociologist Sébastien Broca, Zuboff does not place surveillance capitalism in a historical perspective and forgets that the desire to shape public behavior is at least as old as the invention of advertising (he gives the example of the advertising Edward Bernays, who marked the 1920s).

What position for UCL ?

The debate between specialists is therefore not settled. In addition, we lack an economist's light on these "ruptures" of capitalism. UCL must therefore remain cautious. A cautious position consists, for the signatories of this text, in adopting the vocabulary of surveillance capitalism and technopolice, which despite its faults tends to impose itself in the public debate, and to recognize the dominant position of this capitalism today. (the domination can be shared with several, that goes without saying), while continuing to study the possibility of a rupture.

What possibilities for emancipation struggles ?
UCL's strategy in the face of surveillance capitalism and the technopolice revolves around four axes: the development of the free-librarian counter-culture, unionization work, the defense of immediate demands and the forging of links with other struggles.

Libriste movement

The counter-cultural breach of the hacker movement and free software meets with deserved success (for example the Framasoft association). Developing a counter-culture is not necessarily part of UCL's usual strategies. But it would be a political error to ignore this movement when it often claims to be libertarian and that mutual enrichment is possible. The UCL must support this counter-culture, when it goes in the direction of autonomy and emancipation, learn from its concrete anti-centralist achievements, be exemplary by promoting free software, and, through popular education. and the training of the social movement, to expand the audience affected by this movement.


The working conditions in the "click micro-work" are sometimes so deplorable (pay per task, no contract, collective or occupational medicine, 100% teleworking , etc.) that the objective of unionization can be achieved. seem unreachable immediately. However, unions have been able to form in more favorable cases (Amazon, Uber, Deliveroo). Revolutionary trade unionists must accompany these successes and seek to organize as large a fringe as possible of the proletariat oppressed by the digital giants. Some existing unions or parasyndicale collectives are imbued with a free-spirited counterculture, which makes it necessary to articulate the first two axes.

Moreover, if we accept the idea that feeding the surveillance products of the digital giants is free work, then we must translate the notions of unionization and strike in this context.

Immediate claims

The following demands are made either by the liberal associations or by the digital unions, and form a good basis for the UCL:

prohibition of the extraction of personal data without explicit consent ;
interoperability of platforms (that is to say forcing the current prison networks, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to be compatible with each other and with free alternatives, in order to decompartmentalize communications) ;
prohibition of automated identification techniques (facial recognition, gait, etc.) ;
inalienable right to anonymity ;
inalienable right to end-to-end encryption of communications ;
abolition of patents, and first of all patents on living things and software patents (and therefore legalization of cultural or scientific sharing and of all source codes) ;
reform of computer science education (with greater awareness of the issues described above) ;
Systematically offer a non-digital alternative for administrative procedures and daily life and ensure the defense of the use of payment in cash.
Convergence with other struggling sectors

The link between the fight against technopolice and anti-fascism is obvious and already integrated by specific organizations. The authoritarian drifts of "democratic" regimes (Snowden revelations, Global Security law, etc.) as well as the strengthening of the authoritarianism of States like China or Israel (both at the forefront of facial recognition) make this link concretely. The link with the environmental struggle is an important concern (the ecological cost of digital technology has been documented by Greenpeace for example) but must be further strengthened.Finally, the links with anti-racism or anti-patriarchy, less visible until now, also exist and must be better exploited. Two examples:

the links forged during the state of emergency under Holland between the CCIF and the Quadrature du Net.
the mobilizations of feminist or LGBTI collectives against cyberviolence (cyberbullying, spousal or child tracking devices, etc.) and for the right to anonymity.

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