Surveillance capitalism in the middle east retail sector

Publication Name

Critical Perspectives on Accounting


Big Data has dramatically changed the competitive landscape of the global economy (Demirkan et al., 2015). Big Data capabilities enable marketers to differentiate customers by accessing and analysing their daily activities to influence the customers’ choices in a way that increases profits. Marketers are thus motivated to design technologies that extract as much data as possible to tempt customers, and even lock them into a cycle of commitment. This process of data extraction is the first stage of what has become known as surveillance capitalism, which occurs in the absence of dialogue or consent and contributes to structures of indifference towards the rights and liberties of customers (Zuboff, 2019b). In this paper, we highlight these intersecting relationships between accounting, accountability and marketing practices. We explore the role of the accounting-based marketing practices that persuade customers of a large retail provider in the Middle East to participate in and use a loyalty program. We then explain how particular forms of calculative practice, intertwined with socio-religious cultural norms, serve the goals of surveillance capitalism. We also reflect on the traditional position of accountability systems vis-à-vis accounting-based marketing practices to consider the ethical concerns that underpin the use of ‘Big Data’ techniques (Dillard & Vinnari, 2019; Roslender & Nielsen, 2020).

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