The ability of surveillance capitalist technology firms to resist U.S. government surveillance

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2018-05

Authors

Shelley, Brian Edward

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Abstract

This thesis reviewed and measured the methods employed by multinational U.S.-based technology firms to resist U.S. government surveillance. A political science adaptation of Affordance Theory was used to separate methods used to resist surveillance into four affordances: legal, political, technical, and market. Review of each firms’ actions provided a more granular evaluation of the motivations and impact of their choices than has been explored in existing literature. The results showed that firms had varying levels of success across all four affordances, and certainly less success than was assumed in existing literature given their resources and influence. The legal and political affordances were both constrained and enabled in part by the firms’ reliance on the U.S. government to compromise. The technical affordance was hampered by protection of data exploitative business models. The market affordance casted doubt on the ability of users to influence change via market pressures. The actions firms chose were heavily influenced by their surveillance capitalist business models predicated on mass collection and exploitation of user data. This reliance on personal data assets to drive revenue inhibited the firms’ capacity as surrogate defenders of individual privacy. When firms resisted surveillance, they were often motivated by conflict of law risks or protection of international markets. To effectively resist surveillance, current firms should begin to transition business models into new revenue streams and redirect public discontent to surveillance reform rather than surveillance resistance. New firms are at a disadvantaged position, with every option to resist surveillance being either cost prohibitive or with significant inherent risk.

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