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Obama’s book list touts tech title that slammed his administration

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  • It’s an annual tradition for former US president Barack Obama to share his favorite books of the year.
  • He posted his 19 favorite books of 2019 to Twitter on Saturday, with the list including titles that range from fiction to biographies and essays.
  • But some were surprised to see the 44th president recommend a non-fiction book called “Surveillance Capitalism,” a stinging critique of Silicon Valley that slated the Obama administration’s close ties to US tech firms such as Google.
  • The book’s author, Shoshana Zuboff, argued that a revolving door of staff between Google and the Obama administration helped it fight off potentially harmful regulation.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s become an annual tradition for former US president Barack Obama to release a list of his favorite books of the year.

He posted his top reads from 2019 to Twitter on Saturday, listing a diverse range of 19 titles such as Hilary Mantel’s novel about Thomas Cromwell, “Wolf Hall,” and Sally Rooney’s popular novel “Normal People.” The titles also include biographies, histories, and essays.

One book that, perhaps surprisingly, topped Obama’s list was the non-fiction title by Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”

Zuboff’s work was published in 2018, and is a timely exploration of the way companies increasingly rely on the surveillance of users’ behavior to inform and enhance their business models.

Journalist Avi Asher-Schapiro first noted that Zuboff is, within the book, critical of the Obama administration’s embrace of the very companies that benefit from this new way of making money, specifically Google.

Zuboff argues that Google has evolved from a simple search engine into a sprawling behemoth whose core mission is to make a grab for all data.

Zuboff writes in one section of the book that “a revolving door of personnel who migrated between Google and the Obama administration” helped the search giant deflect potential political scrutiny. The company was, she argued, able to help shape US policy in a way that allowed it to continue hoovering up people’s data.

Zuboff isn’t the first to observe the possible negative consequences of Google’s proximity to the Obama White House.

The Intercept reported in 2016 that Google representatives attended meetings at the White House more than once a week, and that some 250 people have passed through the revolving door between the administration and the company. Former Google chairman Eric Schmidt was a substantial donor to Obama’s campaign, while US chief technology officer Megan Smith was a former Googler, as was her deputy Andrew McLaughlin.

Zuboff acknowledged the inclusion of her book on Obama’s list, writing on Twitter: “Thank you, @BarackObama. I am honored to see #TheAgeofSurveillanceCapitalism on your 2019 list. We need your support in this new fight for a human future. This is our big work now.”

As the world grapples with regulating the tech giants, it’s possible Obama feels some sense of regret.

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