2018 Book Award, Surveillance Studies Network (SSN)
"[A] fascinating study of the credit-rating industry’s central role in creating the 'modern surveillance society.' . . . Lauer’s top-down economic history is a thorough, enlightening, and long-overdue contribution to the field." ―Publishers Weekly
In Creditworthy, the first comprehensive history of this crucial American institution, Josh Lauer explores the evolution of credit reporting from its nineteenth-century origins to the rise of the modern consumer data industry. By revealing the sophistication of early credit reporting networks, Creditworthy highlights the leading role that commercial surveillance has played―ahead of state surveillance systems―in monitoring the economic lives of Americans. Lauer charts how credit reporting grew from an industry that relied on personal knowledge of consumers to one that employs sophisticated algorithms to determine a person's trustworthiness. Ultimately, Lauer argues that by converting individual reputations into brief written reports―and, later, credit ratings and credit scores―credit bureaus did something more profound: they invented the modern concept of financial identity. Creditworthy reminds us that creditworthiness is never just about economic "facts." It is fundamentally concerned with―and determines―our social standing as an honest, reliable, profit-generating person.
Surveillance Capitalism in America offers a crucial historical perspective on the intimate relationship between surveillance and capitalism. While surveillance is often associated with governments, today the role of the private sector in the spread of everyday surveillance is the subject of growing public debate. Tech giants like Google and Facebook are fueled by a continuous supply of user data and digital exhaust. Surveillance is not just a side effect of digital capitalism; it is the business model itself, suggesting the emergence of a new and more rapacious mode of capitalism: surveillance capitalism.
But how much has capitalism really changed? Surveillance Capitalism in America explores the historical development of commercial surveillance long before computers and suggests that surveillance has been central to American capitalism since the nation's founding. Managers surveilled labor, merchants surveilled consumers, and businesses surveilled each other. Focusing on events in the United States, the chapters in this volume examine the deep logic of modern surveillance as a mode of rationalization, bureaucratization, and social control from the early nineteenth century forward. Even more, business surveillance has often involved collaborations with the state, through favorable laws, policing, and information sharing. The history of surveillance capitalism is thus the history of technological, legal, and knowledge infrastructures built over decades.
Together, the chapters in this volume reveal the long arc of surveillance capitalism, from the violent coercion of slave labor to the seductions of target marketing.