It’s All in the Terms of Service

And all the data we generate here is available to you online. Everything we do and talk about, and of course all your past records. You signed the form when you started that allowed us to bring in all your other doctors’ information, so finally you’ll have it all in one place, and it’s accessible to you, to us, and we can make decisions, see patterns, see potential issues, given our access to the complete picture.”(Eggers, 152)

One of the main themes in Dave Eggers’ The Circle is about the growing need to centralize and gather everyone’s personal information. In this excerpt we see how some of the modernization of medical records is being used to track and analyze employees. As if it wasn’t enough to keep track of all of their employee’s opinions and web activity, they have started to reach into the physical world. Somehow this information seems more personal than the daily zings; at least with the zings you are volunteering information that you are comfortable with sharing. Knowing that all of my medical records are out there for any doctor of mine sounds like an inherently good thing, but this takes me back to an idea we discussed in class about why we are gathering everyone’s information and what are we doing with it. Even with the best intentions there is always a bit of hesitation when thinking about “what bad could come of this technology?” All of this was possible because of the infamous “Terms of Service.” At one point it seemed like we were just agreeing to follow the rules, but now this document is allowing for an invasion of privacy. We are signing our personal lives away to major corporations.

Eggers uses brevity when talking about how Mae signed the forms to computerize her medical information. Instead of going further into the dilemma of having your medical information on a network that could be hacked and exploited, Mae is subject to the Circle taking advantage of her information. By passing over this so quickly it seems like the doctor is downplaying a major issue that will son become the norm. This seems to be the standard now where we just check a box and agree to every detail, every unread or reviewed detail. With companies like Apple or Microsoft who have these terms of service contracts that reach the size of a children’s novel, it’s turned into us hoping that when we put on our name on the dotted line that we aren’t actually signing our lives away.

Eggers uses clever word choice to show a chilling transition from it being the patient’s body to the doctor and patient’s body. When talking about how the information is “accessible to you, to us, and we can make decisions, see patterns, see potential issues, given our access to the complete picture,”(152) Eggers is using inclusive language to make the doctor seem to have as much involvement as the Mae. He shifts the focus of the patient having access to the information to what Dr. Villalobos can do with the information and how she can manipulate it. I believe that Eggers is making a comment on the ongoing technological advancement that are taking over patient records and that we are now out in the open to any doctor who wants our information. Ideally in the Circle’s mind, each person’s health information will be linked to our online profile and there won’t be a difference between that and our real selves.

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4 Responses to It’s All in the Terms of Service

  1. mjp99 says:

    I find Eggers use of “complete” in the passage very striking, and I think you touched on what he means by it in saying Dr. Villalobos has as much involvement in it as Mae. It appears in the Circle world all barriers are becoming confused, blended. The space between human beings, their right to privacy (and choice of action knowing they wont be subjected to the tyranny of the masses watching and judging them, dictating acceptable behavior), even simply their individuality are all compromised. In a way this passage proclaims that Mae’s health isn’t her right, the Circle has a right to it to.

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  2. elexiusmusick says:

    Ahh, I completely missed a lot of symbolism in the medical passages. You’ve definitely pointed it out, though. I think that one of the reasons this is so important is the fact that our medical data is supposed to be so private. I once volunteered at a cancer ward, and we were required to sign about fifteen total pages about patient privacy. The contrast between our healthcare privacy laws and Circle transparency is pretty sharp, and I guess we do see some fallout of that when Mae’s parents refuse to be treated if it means they’ll be watched.

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  3. jmc211 says:

    I like your comparison to signing TOS agreements. We typically will sign them without reading so that we can use that service as quickly as possible. We also also ourselves to be tracked and give information about ourselves to corporations. The Circle gives a much more extreme example, but would we agree to their conditions as well?

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  4. Steph Roman says:

    Accurate and important analogy to signing TOS forms. You could probably make an essay out of this. For instance, agreeing to use Facebook Messenger, which is now mandated on mobile, allows them to do all kinds of spying on you. It’s insane.

    Though you formulate a solid comparative argument, I’d like to see a bit more on why this something we should dread so much, because I totally think it is.

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