Ideas about Surveillance Capitalism systems/services/app in Portugal

Hello there, right now I’m working on a master’s degree investigation work that intends to introduce and discuss the concept of surveillance capitalism and then go further by analysing the possibility of one specific case in Portugal.

I will like to find a system/service/app (NIF system, MBway service and app, Pingo Doce Poupa Mais card, etc…) to investigate and later on create a qualitative study. Nevertheless, I would like to share this brainstorming process with other people and to be open to receive advice about it.

Thanks for reading.



Hi @Sean. Welcome and sorry for the delay.

That topic sounds amazing and I’m sure a lot of people here find that interesting as well :wink:

Some ideas

Here’s some initial brainstorming from my side. Feel free to add some of these topics to your wiki post (So you can structure it the way you want).

Pharmacy’s health data

Pharmacies collect a lot of data on patients. If you look into “catão farmácias portuguesas” I bet you’ll find quite a lot of data being collected. I am aware that ANF (associação nacional de farmácias) is very keen on collecting data from all of the farmacies that constitute it and a lot of pharmacy software is already integrated into systems like data.


SIBS is the main (and only, probably) payment processor in Portugal. It might be interesting to know what they do with all of that financial data.

Loyalty cards

As you mentioned this can be an interesting avenue

  • poupa mais
  • cartao pingo doce/continente/…

NIF System

Since this is from the state, I’d be very surprised if they actually sold that data (We’re not at the US level I think - where states sell voter registration data).

So I’d say within the topic of surveillance capitalism this might not be the best. But if you know about something it will be a news-worthy scandal and highly interesting.

What could be interesting in this regard is evaluating the security procedures for storing this data (more on a computer science perspective) - though I highly doubt anyone from Finanças will allow someone to do this kind of investigation.


Collection methods

I don’t know how you are thinking of collecting the data, but it is my experience that companies that sell your data are not very keen on just giving their processing schemes to you.


With the GDPR you might be able to get some info on who is getting your data and for what purposes. But I know for a fact that lots of companies don’t disclose half of what you request. I’d be happy to follow up on that if you’re interested

App analysis

With android it is reasonably feasible to analyse what an app is sending home and what trackers it contains like was done in this investigation by privacy international

Or how people at exodus-privacy are doing.

Insider sources

This probably falls under the job of a journalist and may be dangerous for whoever gives you insider information, but it may be feasible. (Although getting a journalist to do that for you may be way safer, legally speaking)

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Hello there @core,

Thanks for your welcome message and for the great ideas, I really appreciate them J

Let me get back to you with some feedback in order to bring the conversation forward (if you’ll like to).

So, for the work I would like to carry on, I’m interested in:

  • Pharmarcy’s Health Data (Cartão Farmácias Portuguesas & ANF).
  • Loyalty cards (they are a good example, but I rather work on something different if possible)
  • NIF System (maybe they do not sell the data but in my point of view it could be a system that can provide information to the State about individuals tendencies and actions and can be potentially re-used to create behavioural predictions)

I do talk about the Chinese Social Credit System in my work and I believe it could be interesting to discuss what are the similarities and present situation all over the world but especially here in Europe (e.g. Codice Fiscale in Italy; Health Insurance in Germany; the Insurance Number in the UK, and so on) to then focus on the Portuguese example which I think it might be quite unique for Europe.

I have been living in Portugal for a little while now and found very interesting that individuals are willing to give their own numero contribuinte to receive back deduction at the end of the year without thinking that, maybe, the government is then able to know what you do, when you do it, how you do it and maybe get to understand also why you do it.

I also like your idea about the security procedures for how the data gets stored by the government. I’m not completely sure if it could serve my work and, more importantly, how I could carry on such investigation on my own. Nevertheless, it would be amazing to ask the Financas to answer to some important questions.

Also, I believe that having to deal with either SIBS or MBway is going to be a little too much for my master’s degree. I would love to investigate the MBway system, how they work and what do they do with the data they collect but I have already tried to do some stuff and it did not work.

For the rest, thanks for the app analysis advice. I’m certainly going to look into it more and more in the next days and see if this could actually give some either minor or major contribution to the work.

If you want, let me know what you think about all of this. Take care and have a great day.

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Then I guess given the options, pharmacy’s data could be your best bet with the current alternatives proposed. Although getting any info on how that is being processed might not be an easy process.

If your topic is as you said about surveillance capitalism, I would advise you not to look too much into the NIF system as you’re betting on whether or not the state sells that data (and not about the surveillance impacts of that)

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Here’s another idea:

Using CCTVs to track people

(aka. facial recognition)

Dig a bit into this Portuguese startup: They are partnering with supermarkets to use the already established CCTVs to track what people do on shopping centers. They promote it as a “stress free shopping with auto-restocking of inventory”.

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Also, I don’t think I need to mention this as you have probably already did it, but the book from Shoshana Zuboff is pretty awesome at describing the surveillance capitalism logic.

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Yep, I have read the book and the idea of the thesis came from her writings. Very interesting reading

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So basically, the topics that would be worth it are:

  • Pharmarcy’s Health Data (Cartão Farmácias Portuguesas & ANF).
  • NIF System
  • CCTV

I must admit that, personally, the most interesting one to me will still be the NIF system, but I also think you are right saying that mine would be a risky bet. However, it could be cool to understand why and how the Portuguese government uses this service/tool and what are the benefits of it and then investigate the consequences of it (through the lenses of a possible surveillance capitalism scenarios). Otherwise I believe the right one will be the one related to Pharmacy’s Health Data.

What do you think?

This is an interesting one and although not specifically for surveillance capitalism (more like pure surveillance). A couple of us are gathering this Saturday or the next to gather some facts on this (might be in Portuguese, though) - Perceber o contexto das CCTVs em Portugal (Sessão de trabalho)

I remember talking off-the-record with some people from an unnamed cybersecurity organization within the Portuguese state and they implied that if I wanted to explore any privacy violation by the state, the NIF would be the best place to start.

It could be an interesting investigation, I just fear that if you focus on the surveillance capitalism approach you’ll miss half the picture or end up doing a dissertation about speculation of how the PT Gov’t might sell people’s data, which may not be very scientific. I think the capitalist dynamics may not be so much at play, but rather dynamics of diplomacy and govt cooperation on the exchange of data of their citizens for “tax/police enforcement” as we have seen with the 5-eyes.

With that said, given the options here listed so far, I’d say the health data might be the most outrageous (given it’s health data) from the surveillance capitalism point of view. And if you choose to focus on this topic, you’ll probably find that they sell “anonymised data” - which doesn’t really anonymize anything.

And so if your thesis argument goes like:

  1. They collect data on patients (find out what)
  2. They sell “anonymised” data to datamining companies (and find out which)
  3. Anonymised data doesn’t technically work (we can get into that discussion later).
  4. Therefore, they are literally selling people’s health information
  5. Therefore surveillance capitalism at play

Man, I will just take some time to do some research about what you have been suggesting, talk to my tutor and I will get back to you. Also, I would love to meet in person if you are Lisbon and if okay with you to show you somethings that I wrote that might (if the case) keep the NIF investigation a bit away from the direction you were predicting. However, for now I totally agree that the best and direct way to tackle a surveillance capitalism system in portugal would be through the Pharmacy’s Health Data.


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The High Cost of Free Services: Problems with Surveillance Capitalism and Possible Alternatives for IT Infrastructure

@Sean, this may interest you