The Circle

One of the latest releases from Netflix, starring Emma Watson, John Boyega and Tom Hanks, is a movie that brings forth the idea of a company that has far too much control and involvement in the lives of employees, that it’s a little scary given that it is entirely possible that much of this may already exist.

Watson plays Mae, who is an employee of a customer care department in a dead-end job working hard to make some money while her parents are home, her father with MS and her mother has his carer. Mae receives a call from her friend who has secured an interview at The Circle, a large Internet company (think a combination of Google and Facebook).  She passes the interview and is given a tour of the campus, which is as you’d expect quite impressive with the different activities and facilities on offer to employees (what a great place to work, I started to think).

The job for Mae is similar as her old job as as she works in Customer Experience – an online chat operator, who needs to keep her feedback score as close to 100% – but she quickly finds that the company places a lot of emphasis on their internal social network which she seems to find quite strange.  Admittedly it is weird that a company wants you to be utilising their social network for everything that you do.  It is clear that they are keeping tabs on staff, but most of the employees seem to be on-board with it.

During a company meeting (a kind of conference type setup) the CEO, Bailey (Hanks), introduces the a new piece of technology: a camera that is the size of a marble that can be placed anywhere, uploading live HD video feeds via satellite up-link and processes all kinds of metrics of the area it is places, such as weather, pollution levels, noise levels and even facial recognition.  The birth of the (almost) invisible nanny state.

Shortly afterwards, Mae has an incident where she “borrows” a kayak and takes it onto the river during a large bout of fog.  Needless to say she manages to capsize the boat, however due to a buoy being equipped with one of these new cameras, the whole thing is caught on film and the emergency services are automatically deployed, saving her very quickly. She is brought to Bailey’s office and he discusses the incident with her, bringing her round to the idea that “secrets are lies” and that she doesn’t want to lie; when being watched she doesn’t lie.  The next thing you know, Mae is on stage of one of the company meetings announcing that she will be wearing one of the cameras (modified for ease of wearing upon a person) that broadcasts her every move.

With such broadcasting (know as being transparent) she spends weeks showing the world every waking moment of her life (bar going to the bathroom).  Unsurprisingly, she becomes a prominent face of The Circle with global followers, she moves on up into the chain joining some rather high-level meetings; including discussions of how the company could become the forefront of voters, automatically enrolling those with Circle user accounts to vote and the possibility of users being able to vote through the website. Great idea, if a corporation wasn’t being handed control of highly confidential choices.

Eventually, Mae hosts another company meeting where they are showing off some technology that uses the power of the masses (billions of people around the world who are online and connected) to find people.  The first demonstration they show a photo of a woman who is a wanted fugitive for locking her three children into a wardrobe and then went on holiday.  The children died and she is now wanted for the triple-murder.  Within ten minutes and millions of photos and videos uploaded to the system, the woman is located live streamed to The Circle, Mae and the employees at the meeting.  She is chased down, caught and arrested within minutes. Hurrah! This is technology doing great things for society… isn’t it?

They decide to run a second demonstration. Mae asks the audience who to search for. Towards the beginning of the movie, Mae has a friend named Mercer.  He is an artist who created a chandelier from deer antlers, Mae uploaded the photo to the social network run in order to get some recognition for his work but this ended up back firing as he became branded as a “deer killer”. Needless to say that this causes a rift between the two friends as he comes from Mae’s hometown which is a small town, one where people like Mercer have chosen to not be “connected”. Months pass without the two friends having any kind of contact.

Now, the audience call out “Mercer”. Mae refuses to use the system to find him as he doesn’t want to be found, however Bailey steps on stage and pulls rank, forcing her to initiate the search.  Within moments we see a few people live-streaming from their phones a small cabin with Mercer’s truck parked outside, banging on the door telling him to come outside.  Of course, he doesn’t, or at least not until several people try to find him inside the house by filming through windows.  He quickly leaves the cabin and jumps into his truck, driving off down the country road; cars, motorbikes and drones all in pursuit. Surly this can’t end well.

Soon, the chase comes to a dramatic end when a drone flies in front of Mercer’s truck and he swerves while driving across a bridge, the vehicle plummeting off the edge.

Boyega plays Ty, a character that invented and built the social network for The Circle, however Ty is someone who doesn’t have a strong position within the company and has gone dark, knowing some of the company secrets about privacy and the storage of personal data.  After meeting Mae, she instantly gains his trust.  Once the incident with Mercer, Ty takes Mae to a location that contains thousands of servers and explains to her about how the information that the servers store is all of the information that is collected from the social network, other services that The Circle operate, medical data from wristbands (think FitBit but with the ability to perform live observations of the wearer) and the tiny marble cameras. The data is there for the company to do what it likes with it.

Using this information, Mae decides to show the world the truth about those who run the company (including Bailey) by inviting them to go transparent along with her.  In doing so, she unlocks their email accounts – all of them, including highly confidential, encrypted email accounts that nobody knew existed until now – which released the illegal activities that the company have been performing.

The movie doesn’t give much in conclusion, so one can only assume that the CEO and COO were arrested some point after the credits rolled and, maybe, Ty takes over the company… but this is all speculation.  It is a shame that the movie didn’t wrap up a little more, but at least you can speculate with what would have happened to those exposed and what happened to the company.

Movies like The Circle are eye-openers for those who blindly navigate the Internet, posting their personal data for the world to see, yet is the kind of movie that reminds me of how much services such as Facebook really piss me off for the fact that you know they are mining your data and you just hope that people take away from these movies the knowledge that these kinds of things aren’t just movie scripts, but are based on what is actually happening in the world today.

Overall, the movie isn’t bad and we gave it a “thumbs up” on Netflix, but I cannot help but think that there was just something missing.  It didn’t feel quite complete, unless that was the point that these huge Internet corporations are there, offering services to keep everyone connected but desperately keeping as many people connected as possible in order to provide other services to high-paying companies or for control of data.

Worth a watch, but probably will never get a second play.


The Wife’s Verdict

Must be good; I’ve needed the toilet for ages!



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