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Editorial by KS Augustin

Time to peer between the jaws of a proferred equine…

Posted: 1 October, 2015 at 11:28 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

I’m not a person given to hyperbole. When a group of young men decided to guess my profession a few years ago (don’t ask), they unanimously decided on “teacher”. Because I was “so stern”, they told me. With that in mind, take it from a stern, schoolmarmish type: the SFR community is small, but it’s a great place to be! 🙂

The magazine is two years old with this issue, and it has grown in a way that the team and I could never have imagined. Part of it is due to the growth of the genre itself, from something completely obscure to something now only slightly obscure. LOL Part of it is due to the time and heart our reviewers put into reading and writing about SFR stories, and I salute each and every one of them. Part of it is due to our excellent columnists, who aren’t afraid to tackle controversy head on. I’m not ashamed to say that more than a few of the short stories we’ve published have tickled the ole nose, but this entire endeavour could have come to naught without the tangible support of the community of SFR authors. Without them, you wouldn’t be reading this magazine right now. A huge thank you to them and to you, our readers, for sticking with us.

With all that in mind, I could be writing about the Hugo awards. Or how romance in SF is still stigmatised. Or how to raise the profile of SFR within the greader reader community. But, instead, I think I’ll turn this issue’s editorial into a community service and write about YOU.

Recently, I was involved in a discussion on privacy. And a lot of participants remarked (and I’m paraphrasing here) that they felt completely safe online because they were able to keep separate profiles (real-name and pen-name) on various social media, without one being linked to the other. I was horrified. Because, although it may appear that a person’s profiles are distinct, they aren’t. I know, for example, that Google and Linkedin are onto me. And, if that’s the case, I know Facebook is too, no doubt about it.

Just because a service doesn’t make it obvious that it can link your different profiles, never assume that they can’t. There are a lot of very smart people behind the social media algorithms, and they have serious money behind them; more than you or I are likely to see in our lifetime. If you or I could do a lot with a hundred thousand dollars, imagine what a company with a market capitalisation in the billions could do. And they do.

To use an example, I love dogs and, a few years ago, had occasion to “follow” a North American breeder. She joyfully announced that she’d be attending a particular dog show…and went on to post blow-by-blow updates on what route she was taking, where she was staying and even which restaurant she was eating at! I was sitting at my computer twenty thousand kilometres away, tracking her every move. I knew her name, her mobile number, what highway she was on, who she was travelling with, and even what issues she was having with her car. And I wasn’t even trying! She was giving me all that information on a plate, with her chatty updates and her geolocation-tagged smartphone. And this was before I’d even heard about a branch of security called “location intelligence”.

Whatever you may think of Edward Snowden’s actions, because of him I think people have become a bit smarter about the kind of information they disclose…but not by much. In a world where I think I’m now on someone’s watchlist because I searched for “terrorists cell phones how to track” so I could properly name the type of intelligence it describes; where my laptop can switch itself on and monitor my conversations; where my smartphone can send usage statistics and conversation recordings to a central server; where my search engine can keep a history of my browsing and, unbeknowst to me, send my details to authorities if its algorithms think I’m doing anything “suspicious”…in a world where all this is known, done and executed, I have to wonder if any company is doing me a favour by providing me with a free service.

As the old saying goes, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.

And the powers-that-be, and their sweetly cooperative corporate partners, aren’t going to err on the side of “innocent until proven guilty”. From the news we read, we know it’s always a case of “guilty until proven innocent” with large corporations and the government, even when there’s no case to answer (e.g. sloppy bureaucracy, out-of-date or incomplete internal records, general malice).

I casually keep up to speed in my old stamping ground of Information Technology, and when articles slide before my eyes with headings like “Data Brokers Are Watching You” (Gary Anthes), “The Internet that Facebook Built” (Michael L Best), the ramifications of “Human-Agent Collectives” (Jennings, Moreau, Nicholson, Ramchurn, Roberts, Rodden & Rogers), or “Big Data’s End Run Around Procedural Privacy Protections” (Barocas & Nissenbaum), to name a few, it dawns on me that most of my storyspinning peers who think they’re truly safe on a platform like Facebook, Twitter or any of Google’s services are not just ignorant, but massively and tragically ignorant. It’s as I tell my children: the time for stupid teenage hijinks is over, hardly to begin and never to return. One careless mistake now can come back and bite them in the arse years down the track. Something they do may be legal today but not tomorrow, and they will be punished for it. (How I love retroactive legislation. /sarcasm)

I know it may not be cool to mention personal security in a magazine on SF Romance, but we are all—readers and authors alike—affected by this. We may dream that we’re coasting hyperspace on our way to a crystal cathedral that houses the Micro Black Hole of Eternal Life, but our feet are still (and unfortunately) stuck on an Earth that’s not doing a very good job of fulfilling humanity’s ambitions. Oh, it’s doing a grand job of granting the grandiose fantasies of a small group of sociopaths (take your pick from the current crop), but it’s doing bugger all to grant every person on this planet the barest modicum of decency and respect.

So there you have it. The windows you have open on your computer right now? You can’t trust them. Any of them. And if I sound alarmist, it’s because the situation truly is alarming. Believe me, the more you read about security, the internet, intelligence services and what your can’t-do-without apps are processing in the background, the more horrified you will become.

And just as I’m trying to teach my children to think about their privacy before sharing anything in a digital landscape, I would urge you to do the same. Remember:

If you’re providing personal details in return for a “free” location-spanning service, chances are good that you’re the product…and everyone wants a piece of you.

Get educated and stay (as) safe (as you can). It’s a jungle out there.

Kaz Augustin

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