Why we should be angry about Manchester City, a ‘connected’ scarf and surveillance capitalism

Manchester City want your data and they are willing to sell you a scarf to mine it. Why should that bother anyone?

When a company markets a product designed to extract data from its users, they usually have at least the courtesy of pretending to offer a service in return.

For example, when Google scans your emails to extract and sell millions of data points about your movements, thoughts, and feelings, they sneak past you with a slick app, a quick search, an “Undo Send” button — largely useless stuff masquerading as progress.

So what makes Manchester City’s new ‘connected scarf’ – with a sensor to track emotional and physiological data – such a blatant attack on supporters’ privacy is the total absence of sales pitch. Nowhere in the promotional material does anyone state why a supporter would want the scarf or how it might benefit him. But who this product really is for and what purpose it serves is no mystery. It’s not for you.

“We’re excited to share an innovative scarf upgrade that will allow us to measure those ups and downs and gain a better understanding of the emotion at the heart of the world’s beautiful game,” the club statement read. Note: Allows U.S to measure. There is nothing here for the supporter and consumer.

The official website is littered with vague platitudes and ominous subtext. ‘We are just scratching the surface of what the connected scarf can do’ reads in block letters next to a smiling Aymeric Laporte. “We’re excited about what we’re about to discover.”


NFT should stand for No F***ing Tolerance at all


The club has yet to state how they will address privacy issues once the smart scarf comes out of the pilot phase or how much data will be shared with marketing partners. They did not respond to Football365’s requests for clarification.

If there is no explanation or denial of the sharing of data in the promotional material, should we assume that they will sell and analyze it for a profit? It’s the underlying principle of all “smart” devices, especially devices that don’t even give the user access to the data, let alone give a reason why the consumer would want the product.

That’s a big problem. As Soshana Zuboff describes in her groundbreaking book The era of surveillance capitalismthe rise of the internet of things is potentially the greatest threat to democracy and free will in human history.

This may sound exaggerated. It’s not. The sophistication with which smart devices can communicate, sharing billions of data points about our emotional and behavioral activity, is already creating the possibility of ‘future markets’; selling data packages so accurate that they predict human behavior, an exciting and lucrative tool for marketing.

Once future markets are commonplace, and once smart devices are standardized in every corner of our homes and workplaces, it makes sense that companies selling data would strive to increase reliability—and thus profit margins—by controlling the future, rather than simply predicting it.

This can be done through countless nudges and suggestions, each the result of a complex tapestry of data mining and synchronicity between devices. To cite just one example, a recovering addict whose emotional regulation is analyzed by his smartphone may be alerted to a nearby betting shop and introductory offers at the precise moment a life event suddenly leaves him vulnerable.

At what point do our choices cease to be our own? At what point does the immense power imbalance of the “shadow text,” as Zuboff calls it — the vast knowledge of human behavior engulfed by the gods of social media and e-commerce, but hidden from the rest of us — leaves us unguarded? against their manipulation?

This is not conspiracy talk, but simple inevitability as companies embrace data selling in the pursuit of profit. The endgame is business efficiency and vertical integration on an unprecedented scale. The endgame is slavery: Lemmings who follow predetermined paths set by malicious companies, pushed into buying, moving, and relating habits that aren’t really ours.

Grassroots activism on any product of surveillance capitalism is essential to resist a digital revolution that threatens to create a newly subjugated world. Any example, especially one as brazen as Man City’s ‘tied up scarf’ should be fiercely contested.

Man City, of course, has no master plan to end free will, but nonetheless they will be conspirators if they do indeed intend to exploit supporters. The scarf, which uses a wearable EmotiBit sensor module no different from those found in fitness bands, will “track and record accurate emotional, physiological and movement data from fans throughout a match,” capturing the following four streams of data:

  • Heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration, oxygen saturation and hydration.
  • Reactions of the sympathetic nervous system driven by cognitive and emotional arousal.
  • Movements, activity, gesture, rotation and cardinal direction.
  • Temperature that can be used to assess emotional responses.

Even beyond selling this data to advertisers — as Fitbit and other fitness wearable brands do — there’s cause for concern about how this could be used to change the match day experience, already an explicit objective: The data allows us to create more curated data. , tailor-made experiences in the future’.

By creating a map of supporters’ movements and direction, Man City could help recalibrate where they place ads. Hydration data would allow the club to target specific areas with beverage sales at specific times. Most troubling of all, assessing emotional responses could allow AI-powered digital ads to serve specific brands or targeted campaigns at a time of heightened dysregulation and vulnerability: driving people to choice; that is hidden, deterministic control.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a fringe, and thus insignificant, concern. But surveillance capitalism comes through stealth (at first gradually, then suddenly) and the imprisoned loyalty of football supporters makes us an obvious target – unless we choose to resist.

We are at the dawn of the era of surveillance capitalism. Once smart devices are standardized across society, the battle is lost. Here’s a chance to “be the friction” against the “coup from above,” to use Zuboff’s phrase. She wrote the Bible on the subject, and her words should reverberate in our response to every useless, blood-sucking piece of clever technology forced upon us:

It’s not okay for our best instincts for connection, empathy and information to be exploited by draconian returns that hold these goods hostage to the ubiquitous comic book quest of our lives. It is not okay for every movement, emotion, expression and desire to be catalogued, manipulated and then used to surreptitiously steer us through the future tense for someone else’s gain… What is at stake is the inner experience from which we form the will. the will and the public space to act according to that will.’

It’s time we stopped swallowing the PR spin that every new smartification is cool, sophisticated and desirable. Man City’s ‘tied up scarf’ should make us angry.

Angry that our private life is treated as if it is free to take, harvest, sell and exploit.

Angry, they would treat supporters with such contempt.

Angry that they would take us for fools, willing to be tagged with a data extraction device just because Jack Grealish says it’s “awesome”.

And angry that this phenomenon has seeped into football without any regulation, difficult questions or even any attempt at explaining why they put sensors in merchandise – and what they plan to do with our data.

Leave a Comment