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The Circle: Anonymity vs. Transparency

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1lorannen
Nov 18, 2013, 9:02pm Top

Much like the titular company, current online communities have begun to push their members toward using their "real" names and identities: notably YouTube, where the comment sections have come to be known as Internet cesspools.

How do we strike a balance between preserving privacy and preventing abuse?

2LoisB
Nov 18, 2013, 9:20pm Top

I think that "preserving privacy" and preserving anonymity are two separate issues. Preserving my privacy means that you don't have access to any of my personal information without a legitimate need-to-know. Preserving my anonymity allows me to have an internet presence where I am not held responsible for my viewpoints, statements and actions.

3foggidawn
Nov 18, 2013, 9:51pm Top

The problem with the level of transparency that The Circle was pushing for was that it presupposed benevolence on the part of most individuals and corporations/institutions. Bailey made the argument that secrets are all inherently bad, but I think that, as LoisB (post #2) said, there needs to be a "legitimate need-to-know" before certain information is disclosed. For instance, employers are legally not allowed to ask certain questions in job interviews in order to avoid discrimination, and I think that's a good thing.

4conceptDawg
Nov 18, 2013, 10:00pm Top

I completely agree with the privacy point, but just to stoke the fires a bit I think that Eggers would argue that in the world of The Circle it would be ok for everybody to have that sort of information because they couldn't abuse it because everything the abuser would do would be transparent also. I don't agree in real life, but I think that's the situation in the book.

5foggidawn
Nov 18, 2013, 10:03pm Top

#4 -- They would argue that, but there's always someone who finds a way to beat the system.

6Merryann
Nov 18, 2013, 10:06pm Top

Ooh, I like that point! And what did you think about how none of the top 3 went totally transparent in the book? Ty, for obvious reasons, and I wouldn't expect Stenton to, but what about Bailey? Shouldn't he have been living what he preached? Or did he and I'm a doofus who totally missed that? Gotta go grab the book now...

7matthewmason
Nov 18, 2013, 10:12pm Top

More than just workplace discrimination, anonymity has been feature of free speech/debate and essential functions of democracy (if any recalls early American exploitation of the open ballot system) throughout modernity. It's importance wouldn't be sloughed off so easily, especially by a corporation like Bailey's, regardless his strong platonic vision of total transparency.

8pbirch01
Nov 18, 2013, 11:57pm Top

I totally missed that about the Wise Men, great observation!

9TheoClarke
Nov 19, 2013, 10:06am Top

One of the conceits in the book is that everybody seems to be able to cope with what would be a nigh-unmanageable deluge of data. I have trouble keeping up with my Facebook feed and would drown in The Circle.

10PimPhilipse
Nov 19, 2013, 10:18am Top

Yeah, only Mae's parents have an issue with answering 100k mails, but they're fossils anyway.

11TooBusyReading
Nov 19, 2013, 10:28am Top

It seems to me that we are moving towards needing or wanting less privacy anyway. So many people share every little detail of their lives on social media that I think the concept of privacy is morphing. I'm one of those fossils like Mae's parents, but I don't want everyone to know everything about me, even if it is not anything embarrassing.

About the mega amounts of data, no, how could anyone possible answer as many questions and surveys, etc., as Mae? Time wise, that is just not possible, IMO.

12Ling.Lass
Nov 19, 2013, 2:03pm Top

> 9 I agree that the deluge of data was frightening! Though it may be only a bit exaggerated from what we face now. (For example, there are currently 468 messages in this OneBook group... :-)).

13staciec
Nov 19, 2013, 6:12pm Top

I was a little disappointed with the arguments for transparency in the book. For instance, when Mae and Bailey are talking and she's trying to make a case for privacy, she had terrible arguments, which made it easier for Bailey to slide by with wimpy transparency arguments. I think, in the Real World, people would have more legitimate privacy/anonymity concerns, which would make a complete information takeover like in the book very unlikely.

That's not to say I don't have any problems with the direction social media is going now; when everything is hooked together and people who follow you automatically know where you are, what articles you're reading, and what music you're listening to, I can at least imagine a slow, continuous progression toward transparency.

14nohrt4me2
Nov 19, 2013, 7:09pm Top

I don't think Mae s persuaded by Bailey's arguments at first, but he's the boss. She isn't going to argue with him and risk losing her job and her parents' insurance coverage. I also think she isn't smart enough to come up with counter-arguments.

She's also exhausted not only by the number of screens at her work station (I lost count at five) and then by the extra curricular activities and Tweet-like messages and responses she is expected to make. It's as much a brainwashing technique as the rat in the cage in "1984."

Mae is broken by the time she goes transparent. She has lost her self-direction and free will.

And doesn't Mae achieve anonymity of a sort by becoming a Digital Every(wo)man. Once's she's there for everyone to see, there's nothing left of her, only an extension and creation of The Circle.

Or is that stretching things too much?

15Merryann
Nov 19, 2013, 7:38pm Top

You make good points, and I think stretching things is what makes this discussion fun. :) So, does Mae become less intelligent because of the drain on her mind as she strives to fulfill the Circle's demands on her? I didn't think of that. I just figured she strove so hard to meet their demands because she is not intelligent enough to think for herself. I didn't consider that she'd been placed in an environment where she no longer had time to think her own thoughts!

16norabelle414
Nov 20, 2013, 9:07am Top

It really bothered me that the transparent people were allowed to turn their cameras off at 10pm. Wouldn't corrupt politicians just have their shady meetings after 10pm?

17TooBusyReading
Nov 20, 2013, 10:05am Top

Yes, there were a lot of holes in that transparency thing, but I thought that maybe that was part of the point. People can claim to be totally transparent but still hide what they want to hide. Transparency would work only for those not smart or clever enough to figure out how to avoid it when they wanted.

18timspalding
Nov 20, 2013, 10:06am Top

>16 norabelle414:

In We, the government allows people to have short periods of privacy, for going to the bathroom and such. The periods are systematically reduced over time.

19norabelle414
Nov 20, 2013, 10:11am Top

I understand the bathroom thing, but the whole point of political figures going transparent was so that they couldn't have clandestine meetings, but the cameras turn off for a whole 8(?) hour chunk of the day. And 10pm isn't even that late for a clandestine meeting.

20qebo
Nov 20, 2013, 10:47am Top

16: I'd think honorable politicians would do the same. It'd be a relief to have a real conversation and hash out resolution or compromise without worrying about how every utterance is perceived.

21qebo
Edited: Nov 20, 2013, 11:36am Top

1: How do we strike a balance between preserving privacy and preventing abuse?

I think LibraryThing does a pretty decent job with this by setting standards and enlisting all members as enforcers.

2: Preserving my anonymity allows me to have an internet presence where I am not held responsible for my viewpoints, statements and actions.

I have more of an online presence on LT than anywhere else. I occasionally send thread links to family and friends, so the connection between my real name and my LT name is known, and I am accountable to people that I care about. I don’t think that a requirement to use my real name on LT (for example) would make me more accountable, but it would make me more cautious, perhaps to the extent of exiting altogether, or maintaining the library but retreating from talk. The connection between real me and LT me is relatively easy to find with fairly rudimentary google-fu, and an increasing number of people know it, but still, I want to preserve some layers of filtering, in the same way that I’ll have more personal conversations with some people than with others, and trust friends to understand which bits are confidential. Though anonymity may be an illusion on my part, and I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with identity seepage. The trouble with the internet is it’s kind of an all-or-nothing deal. Once you’re there, you’re everywhere.

22conceptDawg
Nov 20, 2013, 1:06pm Top

Apropos to the discussion at hand:
At an FTC event yesterday Vint Cerf, Google's chief internet evangelist, said that "Privacy may actually be an anomaly." He follows this up with a reference to older small towns where everybody knew each other and everything they were doing.

I think this is pretty weak stuff coming from him. He's drinking the Google kool-aid but it shows what these large companies think of privacy in general.

23qebo
Nov 20, 2013, 1:32pm Top

22: everybody knew each other
Well, that’s a difference right there.

24norabelle414
Nov 20, 2013, 1:36pm Top

>22 conceptDawg: I think he only thinks everyone knew what everyone else was doing.

25CarolO
Nov 20, 2013, 1:39pm Top

>22 conceptDawg: & 23 ACK! That scares me more than The Circle having grown up in a small town. Everyone knowing everything created secrets, for example, teachers had to buy their wine, beer and alcohol out of town or there would be rumors that they were alcoholics. I left town as soon as I graduated and never looked back. Give me my big city and my anonymity!

26matthewmason
Nov 20, 2013, 3:49pm Top

>22 conceptDawg: Wow... Wow. There's something to goggle at.

27nohrt4me2
Edited: Nov 20, 2013, 8:59pm Top

Weren't all the "transparent" politicians actually hiding the source of all power and influence: Stenton? I thought the idea of transparency hiding the most opaque of the trio was interesting.

And all those bottom feeders he brought back from his submarine, especially the transparent shark? You could see everything it ate travel through it's gut and be excreted in a fine powder. Wonderful if somewhat heavy-handed emblem for Stenton himself, no?

28lorannen
Nov 20, 2013, 8:46pm Top

>27 nohrt4me2: Oh, I'd say definitely. Stenton is the shark, Bailey the octopus, Ty/Kalden the seahorse.

29nohrt4me2
Nov 20, 2013, 9:16pm Top

Yes, lorannen/28.

I liked the fact that, at the heart of The Circle is Stenton and the naked pursuit of money and influence.

Just my opinion, but my work life is drawing to a close (I'm 60), and I've worked for a number of companies. I see an increasing tendency among CEOs to wrap themselves in a lot of altruistic sounding blah blah about stewardship service commitment to excellence and corporate citizenship.

The greedier people get, the less transparent they seem to be about the fact that they're in business to make money.

Nothing wrong with making money. Unless you're pretending to be in business for some other reason. And then people wonder what your real agenda is.

Or maybe I'm overly cynical.

30Merryann
Nov 20, 2013, 11:49pm Top

>16 norabelle414: Yes, that 'turn off the cameras at 10:00 P.M.' thing bothered me. Unlike some other posters, I had no problem suspending disbelief for the book. I swallowed large amounts of stuff without once stopping to think "Wait-is this realistic?" I think that's because I do believe the book was, overall, very well-written

But even I had to stop at the 10:00 P.M. thing and wonder about that. For two reasons: 1. It just blows the whole 'total transparancy thing' for reasons already stated. And, 2. All Ty/Kalden ever had to do was show up in her room at 2:00 A.M. He'd have plenty of time for both sex and some real conversation with Mae in which he could try better to convince her.

31timspalding
Nov 21, 2013, 10:59am Top

How do we strike a balance between preserving privacy and preventing abuse?

I think LibraryThing does a pretty decent job with this by setting standards and enlisting all members as enforcers.

Yeah, but "we" don't get to strike that balance. The companies do. LibraryThing has a different attitude toward this stuff for reasons particular to it--for example, that we charge money, so we are trying to be fun for members, not make money off them by betraying them.

But most companies aren't like this. Facebook has basically only moved one direction--toward less privacy. Every time they update their settings, new things slip into "default share." Privacy expectations are mere social convention; already they've undergone a sea change. For this trend to stop there needs to be something stronger--strong laws or a countervailing market force. I don't see those coming. So I think we'll see the slippage go on for a long time to come.

32conceptDawg
Nov 21, 2013, 11:25am Top

The difference there is that they (Facebook and most other "free" sites) make money by leveraging all of that "transparent" data into advertising dollars. We don't have the over-arching need to know more about you so that we can better target you with ads. At LibraryThing we don't have the pressure to do that because we get paid up front (theoretically).

We occasionally might want to know more about you to allow us to give YOU a better service (like when we asked for your location to make Local and the Get this Book services work; although it's opt in and we went one step further by providing a public and private location feature). But that's fundamentally different from what Facebook, G+, etc are aiming for.

33TooBusyReading
Nov 21, 2013, 11:27am Top

I want lots of privacy but I think transparency is important in some situations even to those of us not deeply involved in major decision-making. What comes to mind is road rage, and how it has been reported that people feel anonymous in their cars and react in ways they never would if they knew the other drivers. This has been exacerbated with the popularity of tinted windows, so that people think no one really knows how they are, and they can behave badly.

Fortunately, I think I'm speaking for a minority of drivers.

It reminds me of toddlers playing peek-a-boo: If I put my hands over my eyes, you can't see me.

34timspalding
Nov 21, 2013, 11:57am Top

>32 conceptDawg:

We also—mostly—sell our data and services to libraries, who are nice guys. This sets the tone, so that when we sell to commercial companies (and we do), it's on the same terms, for example, that we never ever sell personal details, and we allow members to choose whether to share their reviews and with whom.

35LoisB
Nov 21, 2013, 12:20pm Top

In terms of privacy, I think it's important to look at the opt in/opt out concept. I do not mind having some of my information shared by social media, but I want to be the one to make that decision. Therefore, I want to opt in for selective sharing. Facebook and others require me to opt out for selective sharing.

36timspalding
Nov 21, 2013, 12:37pm Top

The default matters. 95% of users don't change it. It creates the world from which others dissent at their peril.

37bfister
Nov 21, 2013, 12:46pm Top

>29 nohrt4me2: - oh, yes. Absolutely.

38bfister
Nov 21, 2013, 12:58pm Top

I found the government transparency thing especially thought-provoking.

I am a librarian, which means I a) believe strongly in privacy as a condition necessary to free inquiry and b) believe strongly in open government.

But open government isn't really about seeing every single thing a politician does. It's about sharing information about what the state is doing. It's about the government being ours, so not operating in secrecy. It's about believing we are better off if things are on the record and everyone has equal access to the record. It makes me think hard about why this is important to me and what it is that open government actually means and why it's different than life-streaming the lives and interactions of public figures.

One thing I've wondered - would Eggers have changed the book knowing what we now know about the NSA? He shows how thoroughly government has become owned by moneyed interests, but he doesn't account for the way our intelligence apparatus got drunk on information access and how vexed that relationship is.

The blueprint for what the NSA is doing was shown (quite proudly) in 2002 and people were horrified. What? That's appalling! No! Then Facebook was founded, and we got entirely used to datamining and the supposed inevitable loss of privacy. That's what made Prism and all the rest possible but also made it seem ... well, okay, I guess, I mean, what have I got to hide? Isn't hiding a sign you're doing something bad? It reset our emotional resistance in a way that not even Google and Facebook quite predicted. Their outrage that the NSA is tapping into their data in ways they didn't authorize is kind of funny. In a sad way.

39LoisB
Nov 21, 2013, 4:10pm Top

>36 timspalding: I definitely agree. What I was trying to say, rather ineloquently, is that they want the default to be "opt out", while I want the default to be "opt in". If I don't take any action they should default to "don't share".

41timspalding
Dec 29, 2013, 7:42pm Top

I am not against that, but it's a slippery slope. If police officers, why not others doing a public duty? Also, obviously, there are all sorts of questions about when one ought to turn it off. Would I approach a police officer to inform him that my neighbor has an illegal gun if I knew that was going on tape?

42reading_fox
Mar 4, 2014, 7:12am Top

Like most of the book I don't think Egegrs followed these ideas through properly. He tried to in when jerk2 videoed him and Mae together, and then with the transparent Mae and her parents. But then he never did anything else with it. Mae tried ot have the video deleted, but there was never any follow up on whether it was seen or not. I also didn't like the reference to Snowden. It was big news last year. It's sort of still slightly news this year. But in the x years time when the Circle is set, would it even be memorable? I doubt it.

You have a right ot be private - to choose not to partake. But I'm not sure that the same is true about being annonymous. If you choose to use a companies product, you give up much of your rights - you could always not use it. The tricky grey area is when there is limited choice not to use it, and when you don't know what is happening with your information. It's not about controlling or chossing what is done with it, it's about choosing whether or not to release that information - you can't make that choice if you don't know where it's going. Again Eggers completely failed to explore any of these ideas.

That's the thing about transparency, threre's so much data out there, that although it sounds like a scary concept, 99.99% of the time nobody is interested in looking at you. The big downside is that when you are looked at all your secrets are bare.

Streton was the worst concpet in the book for me. Supposed to be the big scary corporate out of control head honcho. He did nothing. We have no idea whether the worst possabilities of the Circle would get realised or whether it would remain average. The Circle could have been so much more than it was.

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