Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative

Harvard Economist Calls for Outlaw of Online Advertising Markets—Just Like the Trade of ‘Organs, Babies, or Slaves’

November 18, 2019, 6:41 PM UTC

Shoshana Zuboff has no tolerance for Big Tech profiteering off the backs of unsuspecting people.

A professor emerita at Harvard Business School, Zuboff called for severe regulatory action against the world’s largest advertising-based technology companies at the 2019 Fortune Global Forum in Paris on Monday. “We need laws that interrupt supply and demand—that disassemble the incentives for surveillance dividends,” Zuboff said.

Zuboff referred to “surveillance capitalism,” a term she coined in 2014 to describe a new economic paradigm that “takes a dark and startling twist,” as she put it on stage. In the same way that industrialism, starting in the 19th century, claimed resources from nature to create products for purchase, surveillance capitalism harvests people’s data and runs them through machine learning algorithms to create behavioral predictions and nudges for sale.

Google pioneered the business model with its adoption of data-mining and its emphasis on online advertising “click-through” rates. Facebook further refined the idea, which has since spread from the technology sector to the mainstream economy, Zuboff said.

Zuboff, who earlier this year published a book on the subject, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, called for two regulatory measures to be instituted by world governments. First, she said, companies must not be allowed to hoover up people’s personal experiences “without our knowledge, without our consent or right to combat.”

That sort of data-extraction “must simply be made illegal,” Zuboff said. “Call it what it would be called in any first, second, or third grade classroom. Call it theft.”

Second, Zuboff called for a ban on markets that “trade in human futures.” These are markets where participants, like marketers, bid on digital products, like targeted ads, that are designed to “coax, tune, and herd our behavior,” predicting, influencing, and intervening in people’s lives.

Zuboff described online advertising markets as “the first globally successful human futures market.” She called particular attention to Facebook’s influence on elections and Google’s efforts at extending its influence to the physical world through Pokémon Go, a popular urban exploration video game developed by Niantic Labs, a startup incubated within Google, plus the controversial city-within-a-city project underway in Toronto, spearheaded by Sidewalk Labs, a company owned by Google’s parent Alphabet.

“We know [these markets] have predictable destructive consequences to human behavior and autonomy” and to democratic society, Zuboff said. “We must outlaw them the same way we’ve outlawed trade in human organs or babies or slaves.”

Business models that rely on surveillance capitalism “have had 20 years to root and flourish largely unimpeded by law,” Zuboff said. “Only through democracy, only through law, only through a new regulatory vision will we reign in surveillance capitalism,” she said.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Airbus’s A400M still has a screw loose after years of problems
—After record floods, Venice assesses the damage and braces for more
Global energy trends are defying Trump’s climate agenda
Banks set to cash in on Saudi Aramco IPO want you to know they’re still serious about climate change
Catch up with Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily digest on the business of tech.