Book Review – The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

  • Ella Hafermalz KIN Research Group, School of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Keywords: Surveillance Capitalism, Zuboff, Book review, Instrumentarianism, Digital technology


Surveillance capitalists like Google and Amazon will do whatever they can to corner supply routes to data about us and our actions. In Zuboff’s lengthy book The age of surveillance capitalism, we learn about the strategic and often underhand means by which these data are captured, and the ‘instrumentarian’ ideology that provides the logic for this enterprise. Zuboff shows that the aim of advertisers and ‘people analytics’ advocates is to use our personal data to determine our behavior. At stake is free will and our ‘right to the future tense’. In this book review, I reflect on Zuboff ’s analysis of how Big Tech, as Big Other, is controlling our lives. I first highlight the prescience of the book’s arguments. I then compare aspects of the book with earlier tomes that were critical of new technology, to argue that taking a deterministic view of peoples’ relationship with technology may inadvertently support the hyped narrative that data analytics and algorithms are all-powerful.


Download data is not yet available.


AdNews. (2018). Facebook sued for ‘misleading’ advertisers on potential reach. Retrieved from

Adorno, T. W. (2005). The culture industry: Selected essays on mass culture. Routledge.

Adorno, T. W. & Horkheimer, M. (1997). Dialectic of enlightenment (Vol. 15). Verso.

Agrawal, A., Gans, J. & Goldfarb, A. (2018). Prediction machines: The simple economics of artificial intelligence. Harvard Business Press.

Ball, K. (2019). Review of Zuboff’s The age of surveillance capitalism. Surveillance & Society, 17(1/2), 252–256. doi: 10.24908/ss.v17i1/2.13126

Bernstein, P. L. (1996). Against the gods: The remarkable story of risk. Wiley.

Broussard, M. (2018). Artificial unintelligence: How computers misunderstand the world. The MIT Press.

Ellul, J. (1964). The technological society. Vintage Books.

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Goffman, E. (1956). The presentation of self in everyday life. Harmondsworth.

Kelly, S. & Noonan, C. (2017). The doing of datafication (and what this doing does): Practices of edification and the enactment of new forms of sociality in the Indian public health service. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 18(12), 872–899. doi: 10.17705/1jais.00477

Morozov, E. (2019). Capitalism’s new clothes. The Baffler. Retrieved from

O’Neil, C. (2017). Weapons of math destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. Broadway Books.

Rokka, J. & Airoldi, M. (2018). Cambridge analytica’s ‘secret’ psychographic tool is a ghost from the past. The Conversation. Retrieved from

Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin.

Van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), 197–208.

Zuboff, S. (1988). In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. Basic Books.

How to Cite
Hafermalz, E. (2021). Book Review – The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. M@n@gement, 24(4), 70–75.