Afterlives of Data: Life and Debt Under Capitalist Surveillance (University of California Press 2022)
What our health data tell American capitalism about our value—and how that controls our lives.
Afterlives of Data follows the curious and multiple lives that our data live once they escape our control. Mary F. E. Ebeling’s ethnographic investigation shows how information about our health and the debt that we carry becomes biopolitical assets owned by healthcare providers, insurers, commercial data brokers, credit reporting companies, and platforms. By delving into the oceans of data built from everyday medical and debt traumas, Ebeling reveals how data about our lives come to affect our bodies and our life chances and to wholly define us.
Investigations into secretive data collection and breaches of privacy by the likes of Cambridge Analytica have piqued concerns among many Americans about exactly what is being done with their data. From credit bureaus and consumer data brokers like Equifax and Experian to the secretive military contractor Palantir, this massive industry has little regulatory oversight for health data and works to actively obscure how it profits from our data. In this book, Ebeling traces the health data—medical information extracted from patients’ bodies—that are digitized and repackaged into new data commodities that have afterlives in database lakes and oceans, algorithms, and statistical models used to score patients on their creditworthiness and riskiness. Critical and disturbing, Afterlives of Data examines how Americans’ data about their health and their debt are used in the service of marketing and capitalist surveillance.