The Facebook Genocide

Today I put my first story out on Amazon.com. Deep breath. It’s the first of many works that have languished in desk drawers, storage areas, and little-visited folders in the corners of hard drives. It’s really only a toe in the water – a short story – but fairly soon I’ll be diving in with the first of my full length stories.

It still feels like an accomplishment though. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, even if no-one reads it, it’s out in the world. At least it has a chance of finding a reader now. Not many of those lurking around looking in drawers in my spare bedroom. At least not last I looked.

The Facebook Genocide is a story that I’ve had on the go since late last year, and one which has become very topical in recent weeks with the revelations about the extent of the NSA gathering of data from phone companies. I’ve long been concerned about where the increasing lack of personal privacy, and the concomitant increase in how third parties make use of that information, is leading us. I’m no global conspiracy/black helicopters kind of guy, but the convergence of technologies that we’re experiencing is starting to get my attention.

The individual pieces of information that we share may seem like no big thing. Social media stuff on Facebook, search data with Google, purchasing habits at Target, but when you add them all together and use predictive algorithms to make sense of them you can build a rather complete picture of a persons’s habits, interests and predilections.

For this reason I find it somewhat laughable that United States senators are saying for the record that they don’t mind having their phone records trawled by the NSA. They aren’t thinking about the broader consequence of what happens when that data is married up with the vast amount of other information about people that is available (much less the constitutional issues at hand). When phone providers can predict your location with up to 93% accuracy, I think you ought to at least give a moment’s consideration to what that information could be worth to someone.

The Facebook Genocide came about as I went down the thought trail of where the use of Big Data could take a society. How might it have been used during McCarthyism? How might a rising totalitarian government make use of it? Does it irrevocably change the balance of power between citizens and their governments? Those were the things I was thinking of as I wrote the story.

In a time when retailers can predict with a high degree of accuracy that you are pregnant based on your shopping habits, and require you to scan your ID card (driver’s license) to make certain purchases, I think we have to pay closer and closer attention to who is getting our information and what is being done with it.

As I went down this thought path it took me not to some great new utopia in which information is free and society enjoys a new era of enlightenment and liberty, but rather to a dystopia in which it is impossible to be free.

The setting of The Facebook Genocide may be reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, but the time is now.

 

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