Shoshana Zuboff: Effective regulation begins with unmasking these hidden systems

We think that our children are playing with the cool new toys of the digital age, when in fact those ‘toys’ are designed to play our children.

In February 2020, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a class action suit against Google’s remote educational service, Google Classroom, for secret surveillance practices that “track children across the internet, across devices, in their homes, and…outside the educational sphere to collect massive quantities of data…to benefit Google’s own commercial interests.”Balderas anticipated the secret dossiers of personal information that would follow our children throughout their lives, enabling targeting and manipulation by private companies or foreign governments. When the U.S. descended into the long nightmare of pandemic and lockdown that March, Google Classroom boasted 40 million worldwide users. By February 2021 that number was over 150 million.

Each day we send our children into this cowardly new world of surveillance economics, like innocent canaries into Big Tech’s coal mines. Citizens and lawmakers have stood silent, as hidden systems of tracking, monitoring, and manipulation ravage the private lives of unsuspecting kids and their families, challenging vital democratic principles for the sake of profits and power. This is not the promising digital century that we signed up for.

Effective regulation begins with unmasking these hidden systems, and the 5Rights Foundation’s brilliant Twisted Toys campaign is just such a remedy. It speaks a long overdue truth to our communities:  The Emperor has no clothes! Under the Foundation’s courageous leadership, Twisted Toys reveals that we have abandoned our children to the illegitimate search and seizure of their inner lives and blameless behaviour for the sake of others’ commercial interests.

It is intolerable that nearly every imaginary of the digital future, especially those created by our young people, leans toward the dystopian. We cannot allow this to be our legacy. Twisted Toys demands that our children’s rights must adhere in every domain of society without exception. This is the next great awakening, in which we create the digital future that we wantto bequeath to our children –– the future that they deserve.

--Shoshana Zuboff, Author, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; Charles Edward Wilson Professor emeritus, Harvard Business School.

We do not accept this anywhere else. We must not accept it online. 

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Twisted Toys is being supported by many likeminded organisations, individuals, and lawmakers across the globe. Please join us to support the call that the tech industry be held to the same set of standards that we hold every other industry – to stop kids being exploited.