Privacy is theft! Dave Eggers' big-screen takedown of Google and Facebook emerges
Resistance is futile
Posted in Bootnotes, 7th December 2016 11:27 GMT
The Circle, Dave Eggers' novel about a society dominated by an omniscient, cult-like Silicon Valley internet company, has been given the big-screen treatment, with the trailer emerging this week. The movie's promo site has a witty parody of the "onboarding" process for a web platform – enjoy the unreadable EULA as it flashes past, and all your privacy and personal data is slurped up.
The eponymous company at the heart of the novel is an amalgamation of Google and Facebook, and is set in the near future. Eggers captures the deranged utopianism of The Circle's creepy executives who believe in "perfectible humans". All privacy has been voluntarily surrendered for a synthetic "community" and security.
Company rallies reinforce the ideology through chanting "sharing is caring" and "privacy is theft". How is privacy theft, you may wonder? It's because any private moment not shared is considered hoarding, and by hoarding it, you are "robbing" the "commons" of your experience. It's Lawrence Lessig, but slightly more so. There is no sovereignty of the individual in this world: data cannot be withheld, nor can permission, while an individual's reputation is defined by the faceless online collective.
This is a satire of Silicon Valley ideology, as filtered through its propaganda proxies: political and media-class "gurus", like Jeff Jarvis and Steve Hilton, and its client "digital rights" NGOs, like Public Knowledge. In reality, Google alone funds hundreds of influencers ranging from academics, think tanks to astroturf NGOs.
The book appeared two years before Amazon's creepy Echo always-on home microphone. Eggers' literary conceit is a device called the SeeChange camera, which the population enthusiastically adopts, allowing everyone to watch everyone else in real time. There are no 4G notspots in the Circle, so the technology is a little ahead of the curve – but much else is realistic enough.
The movie follows the fate of two employees of The Circle, played by Karen Gillan and Emma Watson. We'll see if Tom Hanks is too cuddly for the role of the sinister Zuck or Schmidt-style corporate overlord.
If you can't wait, here's the trailer. Hosted on, err, Google's YouTube.
After The Circle, it may take more than a few cute doodles to make Google loveable again.®