What Did We Learn from the Movie “The Truman Show”?

When “The Truman Show” first came out, a lot of people thought that it was great movie-making. A lot of people thought that this was an awesome piece of fantasy.

But that’s pretty much what people thought about it. Because back in the day, the legal and technological infrastructure for 24/7 surveillance of people’s individual lives were still not fully in place.

I say that in a calculated way because it was beginning to assemble itself. It wasn’t quite there yet when “The Truman Show” rolled out, but you can bet that it’s happening now.

If you don’t believe that the government or any private institution can spy on people and essentially turn your life into entertainment or a source of confidential intelligence information, you have another thing coming.

You have to understand that the turning point in American history, as far as the dividing line between government authority and snooping and individual privacy was shaken permanently and changed forever when the 9/11 attacks happened.

This was when the Patriot Act was essentially shoved through congress’ throat, and all of a sudden, all sorts of warrant less wiretapping, financial transaction tracking, and other activities that were previously unheard of became standard practice.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks, people were given a large leeway regarding how much money they can send and who they can send it to. There was even a large network of relatively anonymous money remittance services. Well, a lot of that went away, thanks to 9/11.

You need to have that kind of legal infrastructure to justify what happened in “The Truman Show.”

But please understand that “The Truman Show” was supposedly shot by a private company. In other words, it was motivated by the profit motive. It was supposed to make money. It’s a commercial enterprise.

What company does that kind of thing in the here and now? Well, you only need to open up your computer or turn on your mobile device and I’m sure one of the icons you could see is Facebook.

If you don’t think that Facebook is snooping on you, you’re clueless. Seriously.

The moment you log in to Facebook, Facebook is spying on you. It’s paying attention to the things you like, it’s paying attention to the stories you comment on, it pays attention to the friends you engage with the most. It pays attention to basically everything you do within Facebook itself.

If you think that’s bad enough, wait, it gets even worse. Facebook actually has strategic partnerships with apps and other websites.

So, when you get off Facebook itself and you engage in other activities, like you’re commenting on a blog post that uses Facebook’s comment plug-in system, Facebook is still tracking you.

For example, if you go to a stock trading website and you left a comment, technically, you’re not within Facebook. You’re not on a Facebook page, you’re not on somebody’s Facebook wall, you’re definitely not in a Facebook group. But Facebook can still profile you because you left a comment on content that runs its plug-in. You’re fair game.

So, your information is going to be sliced and diced, and don’t be surprised when you get back on Facebook, stock ads or investment-related ads start showing up all over the place. This happens quite a bit.

In fact, your behavior is cross indexed by Facebook to the behavior of your friends. The idea is to come up with a behavioral prediction matrix based on the clicking pattern of people who have certain shared features or traits. Sounds scary? You should be.

This has all the makings of a classic guilt by association tracking system. Everyone is an individual. Everyone should be judged and sized up based on their own merits. Just because you like what other people like doesn’t mean you share the same intensity of fascination with those subjects or themes.

Also, even if you go to a website that you thought was completely disconnected or unrelated to Facebook, you may have another thing coming. Thanks to retargeting technology, Facebook would encourage businesses and publishers to put their pixel on their websites.

When a user goes to a page that has the Facebook pixel, they are profiled by Facebook. So, what happens is that when you go back to Facebook, you might see an ad reminding you of that website that you previously visited.

If you went to an online store and you made it all the way to the shopping cart but had a change of heart at the last minute, don’t be surprised if you see a picture ad for the product that you were about to buy. This tracking and snooping technology is so powerful that, according to some estimates, it increases sales by 40%.

Please understand that the private snooping and privacy violations that took place in “The Truman Show” are happening. But the problem is, when you sign up for Facebook, you’re giving away a lot of your privacy rights.

This is why Facebook is under a tremendous amount of regulatory pressure, both in the United States and in the European Union. People aren’t dumb. People understand that Facebook is actually monetizing the property that you’re creating.

How can liking stuff and posting comments on Facebook and engaging with your friends be considered “property”?

Well, there’s a rising legal academic body of thought that argues that this is property. You have a right to make money off of this. You have a right to permit people to use this or to block people from using it. That’s the next legal frontier.

And unfortunately, the legal infrastructure wasn’t there yet with “The Truman Show.” That’s why it’s easy to look at Truman as a victim. And Jim Carey did a good job.

But do yourself a big favor. Understand that “The Truman Show” is happening now. You only need to log on to Facebook to see this firsthand. The funny thing about the Truman show is that it nailed on the head one key feature of modern American surveillance-it predicted private companies would do it instead of big government.