Are we heading towards a digital dystopia where no secret is safe? It doesn't look like it

Fortunately for us, a world where sharing is compulsory is still a long way off

Share

In Dave Eggers’s dystopian novel The Circle, any character who tries to hold on to their digital privacy soon comes to a sticky end, like a fly on the windscreen of a speeding 18-wheeler. Senators who object to the powers being grabbed by the Circle – the company that has swallowed up Google and Facebook – have their online histories trawled for evidence of perversion, which is then trumpeted across the web.

One chandelier-sculptor who endeavours to live completely offline is hounded to his death by hordes of gormless netizens. In Eggers’s vision, nobody is allowed a private life. Everything must be shared – from medical records to holiday tips to footage of awkward copulation. “I understand that we’re obligated as humans to share what we see and know,” says Mae, the protagonist, whose brainwashing forms the centre of the novel. “All knowledge must be democratically accessible.”

It is high-octane stuff, and likely to get under the skin of all but the archest technophiles. According to privacy technology group Truste, some 89 per cent of Britons worry to “some extent” about giving too much away while moving through life online; dating, shopping, chatting and all the rest of it. Reviewers hailed the book as “prophetic”, a “warning”. And yet the publication of Eggers’s novel, in October last year, is beginning to feel  like a watershed moment:  and not one to celebrate for the likes of Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Since The Circle landed in bookshops, politicians across the developed world have attempted to curb what they see as the excesses of life online. In December, Cameron introduced his ISP porn filter, which blocks off adult content; then in May the EU Court backed up the “right to be forgotten”, which allows ordinary citizens to petition Google to remove links to stories about them; meanwhile, from Israel to the UK, plans are in motion to criminalise “revenge porn”, which would make it easier to prosecute boyfriends (and it’s almost exclusively boyfriends) who post intimate footage of an ex-partner.

 

In The Circle, Mae has a drunken liaison with one of the firm’s creepier employees. He films the encounter and posts it online – a betrayal she can do nothing about. Were Mae to live in modern Germany, however, she would be able to call on the courts to compel her partner to delete the footage, and Google to remove any links to her name, if the story appeared in the press. Of course, Eggers writes to needle and provoke. But evidently our handcart is not making uninterrupted progress to digital hell, as the American author suggests.

More proof of that could be found in yesterday’s speech by Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court and Britain’s most senior judge. “The law on privacy,” he said, “may have to be reconsidered,” given the “ease with which words and scenes can be clandestinely recorded, and the ease with which information can be misrepresented”. This was no idle talk. Journalists will worry, privacy campaigners will applaud. Not only are we a long way off Eggers’s direst imaginings, the past few months, it seems, have put the juggernaut into reverse.

READ MORE:
Boris Johnson's suggestion that we should do away with the presumption of innocence is comedy gold  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin