Shoshana Zuboff visits CBS “The privacy battle is already lost”

Shoshana Zuboff is one of the world’s leading experts on the consequences of digitalisation for individual citizens and public institutions. On Friday, December 16th, she spoke to a room full of stakeholders from both public and private sectors at CBS.


Shoshana Zuboff

Text: Martine Mengers ( Photo: Lise Søstrøm

Christmas was not the cause of the hustle and bustle at CBS on a Friday afternoon in mid-December. Harvard Professor and bestselling author, Shashana Zuboff, was.

The American professor emerita from Harvard Business School has become world-known for her theory on what she terms surveillance capitalism, which she presented in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism from 2019.

In it, she shows how it is not digital technology in and of itself that should be of concern, but rather the way it has founded a new form of capitalism, where big-tech control our online movements and thus are able to tailor routes that will ensure profit.

We have entered the digital age naked, in the sense that the legal framework has not been in place, is one of Zuboff’s points in the book.

“During the last 20 years, we have witnessed a development where Big Tech have accumulated hitherto unseen concentrations of knowledge and power, and we haven’t considered it critically, in terms of how it affects us as human beings and our society,” the researcher explained.

Privacy is already a lost cause

Despite Christmas being just around the corner, 600 people attended the star researcher’s lecture in the great hall at CBS, where she delivered a disheartening message:

“Our democratic institutions have failed to engage in the necessary discussions on new technology. We have let down both individuals and society in general. Talking about the protection of our privacy no longer makes any sense. We have already lost that battle. We have to talk about how to get it back,” said Zuboff.

Mikkel Flyverbom, who is a professor at CBS is one of the Danes who has dealt most with Shoshana Zuboff and surveillance capitalism. He has also contributed to the special issue of the journal Organization Theory, in which Zuboff's latest article is to be published. That article, 'Surveillance capitalism or democracy?', was the starting point for Zuboff's presentation:

"Shoshana Zuboff has given us a language to understand how digital logics intertwine in our society on simple commercial terms that undermine fundamental values and deprive us of the opportunity to shape digital development in a way that supports human and societal needs. And she can largely be attributed to the showdown that individual governments and institutions have today with the tech giants", says Mikkel Flyverbom, who refers to Zuboff's work, among other things, contributing to the EU taking up the fight against the tech giants .

Flyverbom og Zuboff


The democratic institutions must save us

In April, the EU presented new rules on competition that allow for fines of up to 20% of the annual turnover of dominant companies.

However, despite the fact that Zuboff not only made us fear Big Tech, but also made us strike back, we still need more regulations, the researcher stated.

“In the EU, where we have regulations, the situation is a little better than in the US, but it is far from sufficient,” said Zuboff as she ended on a more positive note:

“The situation is bad, but we have also stood idly by for 20 years. Democracy can inspire us, because it is still the only institution that can enforce the law, and the only thing that will curb surveillance capitalism is the law,” said Shoshana Zuboff.

The research platform Digital Transformation at CBS hosted the event, which in addition to Zuboff’s presentation consisted of a panel debate with leading Danish researches from, among other places, DTU, Aarhus University and CBS.


The page was last edited by: Sekretariat for Ledelse og Kommunikation // 12/19/2022