Unveiling Surveillance Capitalism: The Hidden Consequences of ‘Accepting Cookies’

by | Dec 20, 2023 | Corporate power | 0 comments

Article by Oluwaseyi Olomolaiye

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash


Nothing is free, you are the product. You clicked “accept cookies” to read my blog? Well, that button has a larger consequence than most people tend to realise. Reading this blog “free of charge” is not really possible as the price you paid is not monetary but something much greater, something that is more valuable to the corporation. Your data. Big tech firms are watching your every move, and that is the exchange you made. It was not free. You just supplied another dot in your data web. So please carry on reading to make it worthwhile…


Since the 1900s, there has been the concept of the panopticon, which can be described as the theorisation of a surveillance society derived from Bentham’s project of a prison, with an all-seeing inspector (Brunon-Ernst, 2012). But due to the digital age, panopticism has evolved further, bigger than something we could have ever imagined, bigger than something that people do not even have a full understanding of.


The “Big Other”, the facilitator of surveillance capitalism. The ‘Big Other’ as Zuboff coined the term is used to describe “a ubiquitous networked institutional regime that records, modifies and commodifies everyday experience… all with a view to establishing new pathways to monetization and profit” (Zuboff, 2015). The Big Other seems like a threat to consumer freedom however, it appears to be the greatest gift to the corporation and also seems not to be something to shy away from. As can be seen when Google’s 2009 CEO exclaimed “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you should not be doing it in the first place”. But how does this concept come into play in life-and-death situations? When your health is on the line?


The consequences of surveillance capitalism are much greater than we could have ever envisioned. The effects and fears of surveillance capitalism were most recently evidenced in the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation in June 2022, where 13 states outright criminalised abortion. This raised a large concern with a large demographic of women who utilise fertility and period tracking apps, 1 in 3 to be exact (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019). And now 1 in 3 has the very valid concern that the information harvested by the likes of Clue, Flo and other period tracking apps could be used to incriminate them.


However, it goes further than this. Varian draws attention to how “transactions are now computer-mediated, we can observe behaviour that was previously unobservable and write contracts.” He gives the example of an Insurance company relying on monitoring customers in order to determine whether or not to maintain their insurance or pay claims (Zuboff, 2015). Translating this to the context of female fertility it is evident how a plethora of tools like online search data, card transactions and location data can be used to survey people who are in need of an abortion movement (Lu, 2023).


Surveillance capitalism is essentially assisting in creating an authoritarian state which infringes on people’s personal health. Surveillance capitalism interference in the Trump 2016 election has led us to where we are, a place where women’s bodily autonomy is restricted due to the ever-watching eye. Surveillance capitalism has the capability to rupture the organic integrity of individual and collective behaviour, challenging human autonomy and asserting a new form of power over individual lives and societal dynamics (Zuboff, 2022). These developments are illustrated in a brief narrative of the Trump 2016 digital campaign’s successful effort to nullify the political power of Black citizens. Trump’s winning the 2016 election with the aid of surveillance capitalism empowered him with the ability to pack the Supreme Court with three strict constitutionalists, altering the composition of the Supreme Court to be heavily conservative. One of the most controversial nominations is Amy Coney Barrett, a Supreme Court justice who appears to be the antithesis of her predecessor Ruth Bader Ginsburg – a liberal justice who advocated for women to have autonomy over their health.


Ultimately, showing the slippery slope that surveillance capitalism has led us down. A slippery slope which interferes with politics and infringes on your privacy. So next time you click “accept cookies”, think twice. 



  • Zuboff S, 2015, Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization, Accessed 4 Novemeber 2023 https://link-springer-com.manchester.idm.oclc.org/content/pdf/10.1057/jit.2015.5.pdf
  • Brunon-Ernst, A 2012, Beyond Foucault: New Perspectives on Bentham’s Panopticon, Accessed 4 November 2023 https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/manchester/detail.action?docID=838317#
  • Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (The) 2019, Health Apps and Information Survey, Accessed 4 November 2023 https://files.kff.org/attachment/Topline-Health-Apps-and-Information-Survey-September-2019
  • Zuboff S 2022, Surveillance Capitalism or Democracy? The Death Match of Institutional Orders and the Politics of Knowledge in Our Information Civilization, Accessed 4 November 2023 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/26317877221129290


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