NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Derek
After a day of kayaking, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is on her way home when her car starts to have troubles, and she is forced to pull over on the side of the road. She contacts Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) who arrives to take a look at the vehicle. The two evidently have some history, and after Mercer is finished looking at the vehicle, Mae tells him that they should get together some time and that she'll text him or email him. Mercer responds by saying that they could just talk now since they are both present. Mae smiles at this suggestion and heads home.
The next day, while stuck at a dead end job, Mae gets a call from her friend Annie Allerton (Karen Gillian). Annie works at The Circle, a powerful tech company, and is one of the 40 most influential people in the company. Annie is constantly traveling because of her responsibilities and is surprisingly upbeat and energetic for the amount of stress that accompanies her job. Mae interviews at The Circle and gets a job in Customer Experience, an entry level position that requires her to assist users of The Circle's products and services. She is constantly rated out of a score of 100 by the people she assists, and she is very driven to keep her score high.
At a company-wide meeting, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) introduces a new initiative called SeeChange. The initiative involves small cameras that can be placed anywhere and are meant to make the world more transparent. Tom gives a big speech about the human rights implications of these cameras. The cameras come in different colors to allow them to be camouflaged and they provide real-time video feeds. This initiative is based on the notion of making life more transparent.
The Circle owns a very large campus, and it becomes apparent later on that the company strongly encourages its employees to spend a lot of time on the campus. During a company-wide party on campus, Beck is performing. Annie sneaks Mae away from the party and takes her to an office. Annie explains that Mae actually shouldn't be in the office and that it is where Eamon and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) make the big decisions for the company.
After leaving the office, Mae sees an employee away from all of the events, glued to his phone. Mae approaches and begins a conversation. He asks her if she is a guppy, a term they use at The Circle for new employees, and she says she is. He says he could tell and pulls out a hidden bottle of liquor from a bush and offers to share it with Mae. They carry on a little conversation before he gets a prompt from his phone and tells Mae that he has to go and gives her the bottle of alcohol. The employee's name is Ty Lafite (John Boyega), but he doesn't tell Mae his name.
While home for the weekend, Mae is at a BBQ with her family and several other people. Her father, Vinnie Holland (Bill Paxton), has multiple sclerosis and has some difficulty performing normal day tasks without the help of his wife, Bonnie Holland (Glenne Headly). It is evident that Mae's parents like Mae's friend Mercer and would like to see Mae and Mercer back together. Vinnie asks Mae to grab him a beer from inside their house, clearly trying to arrange an interaction between her and Mercer. While inside the house, Mae and Mercer meet. They discuss Mercer's business, which is making deer antlers into chandeliers. The conversation doesn't last long, and Mae returns to her parents.
Back at The Circle on Monday, two employees come to Mae and ask her about her profile on The Circle and why it isn't updated. They also noticed that she had been away from the campus all weekend and ask her why she didn't come back for all the activities. While they are careful not to make anything seem required, they are clearly trying to get Mae to open up more on her Circle profile and to become more engaged in the company. These employees find out about her dad's health condition and that Mae enjoys kayaking. After the two employees leave, Mae seems more determined to rise up in The Circle by fully embracing all of its social networking tools.
At a presentation at The Circle, Tom introduces a political candidate who is making all of her communications transparent. Tom applauds this and speaks about how transparency brings accountability. Mae is in the crowd with Annie. Ty is also in the crowd, but in the back. Once the candidate is done talking, Ty leaves.
During another late night party at The Circle, Mae again sees Ty glued to his phone. She approaches Ty and begins another conversation. Ty then takes her to a restricted area she should not be in and tells that she can't tell anyone that he brought her to this area. He shows her an abandoned underground area and tells her that it's the future of The Circle. He says the plan is to keep all information on everyone in this area, not just the political candidate that said she would be fully transparent. From Ty's countenance, it is clear he does not like the direction of The Circle. It's at this time that Mae discovers that she's been talking to Ty Lafite the whole time. She is incredibly embarrassed and is in awe of him because he is the creator of True You, a very popular Circle product. He then tells her that True You has been morphed into something that he did not intend and that he has taken a back seat at The Circle. He could have a lot of influence over the company like Eamon and Tom, but has chosen to remain in the shadows.
Sometime later while speaking to her Mom, Bonnie shows Mae a chandelier that Mercer made. She takes a picture of it and shares it on her Circle profile. Unbeknownst to her, Mercer gets a lot of hate mail and death threats from people accusing him of murdering animals. Mercer, who lives off the technological grid, comes to The Circle and confronts Mae about what she did. Mae is horrified and asks Mercer if they can go somewhere else to talk about this because people have begun to gather around them and film the conversation on their phones. Despite Mae trying to tell him she didn't mean to hurt him, Mercer storms off.
After this traumatic experience, Mae goes to the kayak shop late at night and sneaks onto the premises through a locked fence. She takes a kayak and heads out into the bay. The waters start to get rough, and fog is settling in. Mae starts to hear a fog horn of an approaching ship, but can't see where it is because of the fog and lack of light. The waves eventually flip Mae's kayak over, and as she is struggling to keep above the water, the coast guard comes to her rescue.
The next day, she is in Eamon and Tom's office, explaining what happened. Eamon explains that SeeChange cameras caught her breaking into the kayak premises and also caught her in the water. Because of the cameras, Mae was able to be saved in her moment of desperation. He then asks her if there is anything she wants to confess, and she tells them that it's not the first time she's been in their office. Eamon then asks her how it feels to tell the truth, and she says it's liberating. Eamon and Tom then allude to a plan that they have for her.
At the next company-wide meeting, Eamon introduces Mae on stage, and they talk about her experience of being rescued. She explains how transparency is good and states that she is going to be the first Circler who goes completely transparent. This involves wearing a small camera on her shirt while she is awake and exposing her whole life to everyone in the world. We see Annie in the audience and she clearly worn out and not looking good. She looks resentful at Mae and says under her breath that she is a natural.
Being fully transparent has made Mae a celebrity at The Circle, but it starts to hurt some of her close relationships. One night, she is looking for her parents through the SeeChange cameras and accidentally finds them having sex. She quickly turns off away from the camera, but the damage is done. Everyone following Mae's transparency has seen the couple. Her parents go off the gird and distance themselves from Mae. When she is finally able to talk to them, they express that they love her, but being transparent is just too much for them.
Mae is invited to a high-level board meeting, and Annie seems to resent it because someone of her level at the company isn't usually invited. At the meeting, Eamon talks about support from all 50 states to allow individuals to vote through Circle accounts. Mae then takes it one step further and brings up the idea of requiring every individual to have a Circle account. Eamon and Tom clearly like the suggestion, but it upsets Annie. Annie gets vocal about her disagreement and ends up storming out of the board meeting.
At the next company-wide meeting, Mae is the leading the meeting and talks about the beauty of transparency. She then states that The Circle believes it can find anyone on the planet in under 20 minutes. She then has the computer randomly select a criminal at large for Circlers to find. The computer selects a woman who is guilty of killing her three children and was in prison, but escaped. Within 10 minutes, Circlers around the world have used phones, SeeChange cameras, and facial recognition software to find the woman and have her arrested. Mae talks about how wonderful transparency is and how it can be a tool for good.
Mae then states that this program can be used to find anyone, not just criminals. She asks the audience who they should search for next and someone shouts Mercer's name. She says she wants to leave him alone, but the crowd gets restless. Mae is trying to dissuade the audience, but Tom tells her that they need to find Mercer and she eventually gives in and asks if they can break their record of 10 minutes. People eventually find Mercer in a cabin. There are multiple people surrounding his cabin, and they begin harassing him and asking him why he is an animal killer.
Mercer races to his truck and tries to get away from the people tracking him. Mae and the rest of the Circlers are watching Mercer being chased through real-time cameras. As he is being chased, a drone startles him, and he reacts by jerking his steering wheel to the left to avoid the drone. However, he over-corrects and drives his truck off a bridge and dies immediately.
Mae is horrified and takes a leave from The Circle and total transparency. She moves back in with her parents and is trying to cope. She eventually calls Annie, who has left The Circle and is out of the country. Annie seems to be doing a lot better. During the call, Mae actually tells Annie that connection to others has helped her cope with Mercer's death.
Despite pleas from her parents, Mae decides to return to The Circle. As she is driving, she calls Ty and asks him for a favor. During their conversation, Ty tells her that she won't believe what he has found. At the next company-wide meeting, Mae expresses how connection has helped her recover. As she is speaking with Eamon on stage, she invites Tom onto the stage, and he seems very weary. Mae then talks about transparency and invites both Eamon and Tom to go fully transparent. As she is talking, she tells them how Ty has found all their accounts, even the accounts that their wives were unaware of, and is exposing them in an attempt to become fully transparent because no one should be exempt. Eamon and Tom are clearly upset but are trying to keep a good face. Tom eventually turns to Eamon and tells him, "We are so f***ed," and storms off stage.
Mae then states that transparency is good. To the support of all in the audience, Mae leaves the meeting. It is clear that she believes in transparency and that no one should be exempt from hiding their secrets. The movie ends with Mae kayaking again and embracing drones around her. She has embraced transparency.