Vizio makes more money spying on people who buy TVs than it does on TVs themselves

Even if you’re paying for the product, you’re still the product.

Cory Doctorow


A Vizio television; its screen is filled with the red eye of HAL9000 and a Gilded Age editorial cartoon of a rich man whose head has been replaced with a bag of money stands in one corner of the screen. Image: Cryteria (modified) CC BY:

In the simplistic account of what many call “surveillance capitalism,” the original sin was swapping our attention for free content, summed up in the pithy phrase, “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product.”

That’s a comforting frame if you think that the problem with surveillance capitalism is surveillance, rather than capitalism. If you think that some companies want to make money the honest way, by selling you stuff, while other companies are full of evil wizards who want to spy on you in order to deprive you of free will, then the answer is simple: just pay for stuff, and you’ll be fine.

But time and again, we learn that companies spy on you — and abuse you in other ways — whenever it suits them — even companies that make a lot of noise about how they don’t need to spy on you to make money. If a company has the power to abuse you — because of lock-in, or because someone else is making you use it — and if the company can make money by abusing you, it will abuse you.

Take Microsoft. It’s making a lot of noise right now about how it will beat Facebook to creating the metaverse because people trust the company not to spy on them (this is the same claim they made about their failed search-engine Bing, but whatever).

Microsoft doesn’t spy on you to show you ads, it’s true. But Microsoft’s work-from-home (AKA live-at-work) suite, Office 365, offers your boss a full-spectrum, asshole-to-appetite surveillance of everything you do:

They’re not spying on you to show you ads. They’re spying on you to sell products to your asshole boss who values the ability to strip you of your privacy and turn your lockdown life into a dystopian cyberpunk hellscape. This is a profitable angle, and Microsoft just announced a suite of expanded surveillance capabilities: