The Circle is a movie that just hit theaters and features an all-star cast — Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Patton Oswalt and John Boyega all shine on the big screen as they tell the story of a new, exciting technology that explores the power of ideas. Most of us spend all day sharing our ideas, no matter how trivial, on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While it hasn’t gotten the best feedback, movies like The Circle still raise a very important question in our digitally immersed world — what happens when one big company controls all the ideas?
Warning: Article may contain spoilers.
Welcome to The Circle
In the movie, Emma Watson’s character, Mae, describes “the Circle” as “the chaos of the web, made elegant.” This film centers on a web-based company that collects information from social media, the Internet and a series of cameras placed in locations like atop light fixtures and in homes and bedrooms. Does that idea sound okay to you or do you question technology usage in this manner?
Tom Hanks’ character markets this as a good thing — “Imagine the human rights implications,” he intones in the trailer. “If it happens, we’ll know.” This is meant to calm fears.
For those interested in seeing the movie, we’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but as you can already tell — it’s not a good thing.
The idea of giant companies using their technology to erode our privacy both online and offline might seem like science fiction, but it’s quickly becoming science fact — and it’s the scariest technological advance that we’ve seen in the last few decades.
First, Introducing TruYou
One of the biggest innovations mentioned in the movie is TruYou, a service that ties together all your online accounts, bank accounts and credit card information into one easy-to-access program with a single password. Sounds great, right? No more remembering dozens of passwords for all your different social media sites or email accounts, and everything can be accessed from one simple portal. We’ve already started down this path — things like Apple Pay or Google Pay that allow you to link your debit and credit cards to your cell phone and pay digitally are just the first step.
And it might not be the most secure step to take. While this might be seen as a great advance, adding to the convenience of our lives, it could also put you at risk to have your information stolen. There’s a reason you should use a separate password for everything.
Having all your information in one place also means it’s easier for companies to sort through and sell. This is another case of current events mixing with fiction — President Trump recently signed a new law to roll back Obama-era protections that prevented your Internet service providers from selling your information without your permission.
“Knowing Everything Is Better”
To prove her loyalty to the company, Mae (Emma Watson) agrees to a program called Full Transparency — basically, she clips a body camera to her shirt and allows anyone to watch her entire life.
You can do this now, with Facebook or Instagram Live, or Periscope through Twitter. All it takes is a smartphone and a free social media account to broadcast your life across the Internet.
It’s a great tool to keep people up-to-date on your life, reach out to friends, or even to build your brand — there’s nothing better than Facebook Live for an introverted businessman or businesswoman. It’s also become a haven for people to showcase their more violent tendencies — to the point that Facebook has hired upwards of 3,000 people to prevent violence in their live-stream videos.
Video monitoring allows us to know everything, as the movie put it, but at what point does that constant monitoring start to violate privacy?
Your Employer’s Health Plan
One of the perks of Mae’s employment at The Circle is the company’s health plan for her and her family. It’s a boon for her father’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis but also requires her to wear a medical monitoring bracelet at all times.
A lot of us do this already — Fitbit, anyone? For the most part, that information is relatively benign and not even your family doctor is interested in how many steps you’re taking every day. However, there are a number of parties concerned about what happens to the data these devices collect. Other than the Apple Watch, which boasts the best security for its fitness data, most other wearables on the market are vulnerable to hacking.
While most hackers are probably even less interested in your steps and calories burned than your doctor is, there is the risk that a hacked fitness watch could be used to track your location. If that’s the case, burglars might use it to find out when you’re not home to find the best time to rob you.
As these fitness trackers advance, it’s possible that they could even use genetic information to help you be your fittest self. This provides a new layer of concern, as there was a bill working its way through Congress in March 2017 that would allow employers to demand your genetic information as a requirement for employment. With a genetic tracking component in a fitness tracker, your employer could potentially bypass you entirely and request or subpoena the information directly from the tracker company.
For now, this is all science fiction, but it’s so close to being fact that we can almost taste it — and even for tech-heads, it tastes like bad decisions. Movies like The Circle are great tools to bring these risks and concerns to our attention, even if they don’t thrill the movie critics. We might not be that far away from the fictional world of The Circle becoming reality.