Piracy, Privacy, and the Intersection Thereof

“You wouldn’t steal a car. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a television.”

Or so begins that classic 2004 anti-piracy ad, anyway.

Piracy is often viewed through a rather narrow lens, the alleged victims normally thought of as companies who can afford to absorb the losses associated with it, companies like Sony or MGM or Universal. Often less considered is that piracy can have an impact on smaller artists as well, including authors.

As recent conversations on book Twitter suggest, there are absolutely valid reasons to lament piracy as a content creator. In this post, however, I’d instead like to explore how piracy might change in the future or how it might exist in a speculative world like the one featured in the EMPATHY series, the kind of world in which one has access to the internet directly through one’s mind.

It’s All in Your Head

Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to write a novel, to compose a string quartet, to create a digital painting—all in your head with limitless storage and lossless recall. Fascinating, right? How incredible it might be to pursue creative hobbies all from the comfort of one’s… well, wherever one happens to be!

Now imagine someone gains access to the drive on which that data is stored. They can see your works in progress, explore the secrets you’ve locked away in your work. Envision now that the same drive from which they’ve stolen this art is the same drive on which all of your personal information is stored, the answers to all your password recovery questions, memories of your happiest moments, your greatest regrets. Worse still, they’ve now taken that art, the most raw bits of you, and broadcasted them out into the world: a real piracy nightmare.

Dark, huh? Not a good time at all.

It is, however, a possible reality in a world where one’s mind is linked to a hard drive somewhere. This is admittedly a grim view, one that assumes the worst in people, which is not always the healthiest thing to do.

It’s Not All Bad

But it might not always be bad actors that lurk at a future piracy-privacy intersection. In a world like our own where people can be all too careless with their data (read: personal identifying information) or thoughts (read: social media posts), many leave themselves vulnerable to exploitation.

For fear of victim blaming, though, let’s reframe that a bit: it’s not always carelessness or a lack of education that might put people in these compromised situations. Simple mistakes could see someone sending their personal information or their still-to-be-finished art to unintended audiences in the same way that someone might absent-mindedly hit “reply all” on an email or accidentally hit “publish” on a blog post meant to remain in draft stage for another few days.

The stakes, in other words, are that much higher when one is communicating or creating directly from the mind as opposed to interfacing first with a terminal, a phone, a paintbrush or a page.

EMPATHY, The Mind, and You

Given that EMPATHY is a nanochip that facilitates a direct brain-computer connection, clearly the world in which it exists is rife with opportunities for the kinds of mishaps and malfeasance described above.

Though EMPATHY provides significant opportunities for the advancement of actual lower-case empathy, when the mind’s metadata exists in a remote location where others might be able to parse it, the consequences can be staggering. This is something we see played out in EMPATHY: Imminent Dawn, of course, but also in later books in the series as well, with the repercussions growing that much more severe over time.

It makes for a grim outlook to be sure, but there are plenty of moments along way for the series’ characters to reap the positive effects of a technology like EMPATHY, too.

What does that balance look like and how can one live it alongside the books’ characters? You’ll have to wait until January 2019 to see how it plays out in Imminent Dawn and its sequels, but until then you can keep an eye on this blog for more.

Thanks for reading.

Be prepared when a new day breaks in January 2019. Stay tuned to this blog, my Twitter feed, and my newsletter for more. Thanks for visiting.

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