Google as a Fortune Teller : The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

  • -Aktualisiert am

Specifically, Google is the mothership and ideal type of a new economic logic based on fortune telling and selling, an ancient and eternally lucrative craft that has exploited the human confrontation with uncertainty from the beginning of the human story. Paradoxically, the certainty of uncertainty is both an enduring source of anxiety and one of our most fruitful facts. It produced the universal need for social trust and cohesion, systems of social organization, familial bonding, and legitimate authority, the contract as formal recognition of reciprocal rights and obligations, and the theory and practice of what we call “free will.” When we eliminate uncertainty, we forfeit the human replenishment that attaches to the challenge of asserting predictability in the face of an always-unknown future in favor of the blankness of perpetual compliance with someone else’s plan.

Only incidentally related to advertising

Most people credit Google’s success to its advertising model. But the discoveries that led to Google’s rapid rise in revenue and market capitalization are only incidentally related to advertising.  Google’s success derives from its ability to predict the future – specifically the future of behavior. Here is what I mean:

From the start, Google had collected data on users’ search-related behavior as a byproduct of query activity.  Back then, these data logs were treated as waste, not even safely or methodically stored.  Eventually, the young company came to understand that these logs could be used to teach and continuously improve its search engine.

The problem was this:  Serving users with amazing search results “used up” all the value that users created when they inadvertently provided behavioral data. It’s a complete and self-contained process in which users are ends-in-themselves. All the value that users create is reinvested in the user experience in the form of improved search.  In this cycle, there was nothing left over for Google to turn into capital. As long as the effectiveness of the search engine needed users’ behavioral data about as much as users needed search, charging a fee for service was too risky. Google was cool, but it wasn’t yet capitalism –– just one of many Internet startups that boasted “eyeballs” but no revenue.

Shift in the use of behavioral data

The year 2001 brought the bust and mounting investor pressures at Google. Back then advertisers selected the search term pages for their displays.  Google decided to try and boost ad revenue by applying its already substantial analytical capabilities to the challenge of increasing an ad’s relevance to users –– and thus its value to advertisers. Operationally this meant that Google would finally repurpose its growing cache of behavioral data. Now the data would also be used to match ads with keywords, exploiting subtleties that only its access to behavioral data, combined with its analytical capabilities, could reveal.

Weitere Themen

Was davon ist wahr?

„Die Heimsuchung“ im Ersten : Was davon ist wahr?

Mit Mystery-Thrillern haben es ARD und ZDF nicht so. Falls sie es probieren, geht es fast immer schief. Mit dem Film „Die Heimsuchung“ ist das anders. Er stellt uns vor ein schönes Rätsel.

Jetzt gilt es, Farbe zu bekennen

Die Ästhetik der Parteien : Jetzt gilt es, Farbe zu bekennen

Was uns Gepäckstücke, Lieder und Oberhemden über die Parteien verraten: Wenn Sie noch immer nicht wissen, wen Sie wählen sollen – hier finden Sie womöglich Rat.


Mit Merkel in Aachen : Herzbeben bei Laschets Wahlkampffinale

Zum Wahlkampfabschluss in seiner Heimatstadt Aachen hat sich Unionskandidat Armin Laschet die scheidende Kanzlerin an die Seite geholt. Angela Merkel lobt ihn als Brückenbauer, er warnt mit Verve vor einem rot-grün-roten Bündnis.
Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder und die damalige CDU-Vorsitzende Angela Merkel unterhalten sich am 12. September 2005 in einem Fernsehstudio.

16 Jahre Kanzlerschaft : Wie die Ära Merkel begann

Im Sommer 2005 galt Angela Merkel als sichere Siegerin der bevorstehenden Bundestagswahl. Doch Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder führte den Wahlkampf seines Lebens. Erinnerungen an eine Zeit, die vieles verändern sollte.


Immer auf dem Laufenden Sie haben Post! Abonnieren Sie unsere FAZ.NET-Newsletter und wir liefern die wichtigsten Nachrichten direkt in Ihre Mailbox. Es ist ein Fehler aufgetreten. Bitte versuchen Sie es erneut.
Vielen Dank für Ihr Interesse an den F.A.Z.-Newslettern. Sie erhalten in wenigen Minuten eine E-Mail, um Ihre Newsletterbestellung zu bestätigen.