Sometimes I think about everything I do online and I honestly wonder if I’m making a mistake. Everything we do on the Internet – every ad we click, message we send, or article we read – offers up tiny pieces of information about us. It gathers what we like, how we speak, where we go. And over days, weeks, and years it builds up to the point where I think if you tried hard enough you could aggregate a person out of it.
I just finished reading Dave Egger’s book, “The Circle.” In a way, his book is a satirical version of this exact situation, only I wasn’t really laughing as the story unfolded. I was horrified by how easily manipulated all of the characters were.
The Circle is a tech company that launched with a simple idea: to combine hundreds of online resources into one uniform platform, completely secure from identity theft and tied to a specific person for the duration of their life. Banking, social media, medical data; wouldn’t it be easier if everything were all in one place?
The simple answer is yes, of course. But as the company grows, the Circle begins tackling more of life’s simple problems. Want to know where your children are? Why not put a small tracker in their foot to protect them from potential abduction and keep them out of trouble? And why not track their vitals while you’re there in case they get sick? Want transparency in your government? Why not have all officials wear live-streaming cameras 24/7? If you can check in on them at any point, then you can certainly eliminate scandal and backdoor deals.
Sounds great, right? Life in the Circle quickly becomes completely open, completely accountable. There’s no crime or corruption, no lies or immorality. Then one day you realize your privacy has gone out the window. And what’s worse, you gave it up voluntarily because everything the Circle offered just made life easier, just made sense the way they pitched it to you.
There’s no doubt that the Circle had good intentions. They wanted to make life better for people. But what they actually created was a totalitarian regime. Regardless of how happy people were to join, they were still submitting themselves to life under Big Brother’s thumb.
I know Egger’s wrote this book because he sees it as a plausible direction that our society could take. Even the way its written- so cheerfully manipulative – hammers home the point. It’s dangerous to be so open with our personal information because every time we do, we give up more and more of our privacy.
From this blog alone, I think you could glean a lot of information about me. You know the sorts of things I like, where I’m from, and certainly how I feel about politics. This is information I’ve chosen to share, but everyday I still ask myself if it isn’t too much. (And yes, I realize the irony of my writing this on a public blog.) Right now I’m proud of everything that I’ve built here, but I also know that some of it might come back to haunt me.
Is this a risk I’m willing to take long term? You can’t stop the signal.