The Truman Show Will Not Be Televised, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Give up Our Privacy

“You never had a camera inside my head.” - Truman Burbank

It’s been almost 20 years since Truman Burbank escaped the simulated reality set that made him a star for millions of television viewers. In the 1998 satire, Jim Carrey portrays a man who discovers his life is a set-up, and wakes up to the fact that his improbably ideal world is a carefully crafted construct from which privacy has been banished. A couple of decades later — and I’m not talking about fiction anymore — anyone can become the star of their very own Truman Show. All it takes is an Internet connection.

The cutting-edge technologies on the verge of mass adoption — augmented (AR) and virtual (VR) reality — are driving the final nail in the coffin of privacy as we know it. Remember when President Trump signed that bill repealing Internet privacy rules? Well, your entire browsing history is now up for sale. If you thought that was bad enough, imagine your entire life digitally recorded and sold to the highest bidder.

We’ve also reached a point where voice assistants are no longer a cool feature, but rather a must-have for any smart home. Siri launched less than 6 years ago, and now we have Cortana, Alexa, and the Google Assistant. Samsung’s Bixby brings the game to a whole new level — the 2017 line features a “use it or lose it” physical button for summoning Bixby, and the manufacturer has plans to bring the virtual assistant to a whole slew of smart devices.

The catch with voice assistants? They only work if you let them record everything.

Want to set a reminder for dinner at Dorsia? “OK Google“. Want to know where you can get the lowest price for the new Nike sneakers? Point a camera at them and let Bixby have a look. Watching South Park from your couch? Careful, it might trigger your Alexa.

All the tech companies driving these innovations swear by tight privacy rules and are publicly committed to preserving at least some degree of anonymity. But isn’t it worrisome that any single company could access almost every aspect of your life?

Many past and current Internet giants have faced data breaches: Yahoo, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Sony to name just a few. The sad state of events: sooner or later, bad things happen. In a post-VR world, a data breach would include more than your username, password and credit card details. It would include everything. What you saw, what you did, what you heard and, as soon as we can control a computer with a direct neural link, what you thought at any particular point in time.

So is loss of privacy inherently a bad thing? Ironically enough, I don’t think that’s for us to decide. It’s the generation that’s growing without intimacy that will eventually have to answer that question. Generation Z, the linksters, the three year-olds born with an iPad in their hands, the young hip people who use Snapchat Spectacles and browse UniLad daily. They’re going to grow up and realize how much of their life is already out there on the Internet. And they’re going to be mad about it — or not. But they need a chance to have their say.

There is one fundamental difference between The Truman Show and what the future we likely face. At the end of the movie, Truman crashes into a wall onto which the sky is painted. He walks up a flight of stairs. At the top, there’s a door that says “EXIT”. As he is about to walk out of the show, the director addresses him directly, trying to make Truman stay. But he declines, and simply leaves. The studio ceases transmission.

In a highly connected world, in which virtual reality and personal assistants are an everyday reality, you’d never be able to do that. Give up social media, and your history is still somewhere on a server. Disconnect entirely, and you’ll still be featured in someone else’s online show. There’s no EXIT. You might get a pop-up trying to make you stay, but even if you leave — you’re still right there.

So where will you stand when the privacy revolution happens? Will you still play your part, or look for an EXIT? Let me know in the comments section below.


Sebastian Ungureanu does product marketing for Bitdefender, and has a degree in Telecommunications and Information Technology. He occasionally publishes opinion pieces for our Medium account, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. And in Truman Burbank’s wise words:

In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.