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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam