In the era of surveillance capitalism (Zuboff, 2019), the deployment of a digital and biometric ID, named Aadhaar (‘foundation’ in Hindi), in India from 2009 onwards, strongly disputed but spreading in many Southern countries, deserves special attention. The present text relies on grey literature and a multi-sited ethnography of the project. It addresses a gap in the literature: The reasons why some players (and which ones) in the corporate world needed a digital and biometric ID in the 2000s. The study identified three key motivations: being able to link databases to extract behavioural surplus, especially in the South which lacked ‘cookies’ as universal personal identifiers; find new markets for biometric technologies, and possibly new populations to register for northern governments; and also find a way to recover from the 2008 economic crisis. This text is the first of a series that reviews the Aadhaar project.
Photo by Angela Roma