BCS SPA Software in Practice

24th – 26th June 2019

Book your place now


Surviving surveillance capitalism

The rise of surveillance capitalism - is resistance futile?

150 minutes


In this era of surveillance capitalism, described by Shoshana Zuboff, political and economic power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very small number of Big Tech companies through appropriating and monetizing personal and behavioral data.

But is the picture indeed so bleak? If AdTech can find me the pair of shoes I want in less time, fine! If data analytics helps me find a healthier lifestyle, great!

On the other hand, where does benign nudging turn into cynical manipulation? Where should ethical lines be drawn?

Do we even have the choice as technologists to do the right thing? Or are all the companies we work for forced to compete on surveillance capitalism’s terms? In other words, can we gain competitive advantage by respecting privacy? The GDPR attempts to level the playing field by stipulating that every system should have privacy by design. While some high-level principles such as data minimisation and purpose limitation are well-established, the gap between those principles and engineering practice needs bridging. Hopefully, in this session, we will find ways to span this divide. And, hopefully, we will conclude that respecting privacy is not only the ethical course of action, but also makes sound business sense.

Audience background

No specific skills or knowledge required, the only prerequisite is an interest in societal issues arising with technological change.
I especially hope people experienced with Big Data will come along and make valuable contributions to the session.
The session is relevant for anyone working in IT, regardless of their role - we are all confronted with the ethical issues surrounding surveillance capitalism.
Participants from startups trying to find a business model that is both viable and ethical should find this session particularly rewarding. Conversely, their contribution would also be extremely valuable.

Benefits of participating

Insights into major ethical dilemmas facing the IT sector
Adapted practices.

Materials provided

Presentation on the frame of reference:
* surveillance capitalism
* definition
* mechanisms
* case study, e.g. AdTech
* legal framework
* privacy by design


I will start with an interactive scene setting presentation. At roughly halfway, I will leave the stage and facilitate a debate amongst participants.

Detailed timetable

00:00 - 01:10 Interactive presentation
01:10 - 02:20 Goldfish bowl
02:20 - 02:30 Summing up


suggestions welcome


  1. Johan Peeters
    Johan Peeters bvba