John Oliver on Surveillance Capitalism


John Oliver's Last Week Tonight took on data brokers and surveillance capitalism in a recent show and he did his usual great job of explaining a serious topic in an entertaining way. Definitely worth the watch.

Surveillance capitalism is a serious subject that can be hard to explain, let alone make interesting. I believe that it threatens our digital future. The question is "what to do about it?"

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight recently took on the task of explaining surveillance capitalism, how it works, and why it's a threat. I recommend watching it. Oliver does a great job of explaining something important, complex, and, frankly, a little boring in a way that is both funny and educational.

But he didn't just explain it. He took some steps to do something about it.

In researching this story, we realized that there is any number of perfectly legal bits of f—kery that we could engage in. We could, for example, use data brokers to go phishing for members of congress, by creating a demographic group consisting of men, age 45 and up, in a 5-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, who had previously visited sites regarding or searched for terms including divorce, massage, hair loss and mid-life crisis.

The result is a collection of real data from their experiment that Oliver threatens to reveal if Congress doesn't act. The ads they ran were Marriage shouldn't be a prison, Can you vote twice?, and Ted Cruz erotic fan fiction. I'm not sure it will actually light a fire under so moribund an institution as Congress, but it's worth a shot!

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Last modified: Tue Apr 19 12:12:26 2022.