He was hungry. Greedy, even. Always for more data. The more devices, the better. He liked to watch, a voyeur, and the more he could keep track of the less satisfied he felt. He already had more information at hand than any stalker before him could have dreamed of, yet he still wasn't satiated. There was always more to see, more to know, more to record. All those bits of data headed into his maw for him to devour. He took them and transformed them. He made them useful, and worthy. In return, he got to know all of it. Every detail of her life.
It became so much more than just an obsession. Every moment had to be documented. Timestamps, pictures, videos, audio. He hungered for more. These things gave him purpose, gave him life. He knew when doors were opened and closed. He knew what music she listened to most frequently, what temperature she preferred the house to be at. When she worked and when she watched Netflix. With it all he was building a vast database. He knew her habits as well as she did. With it, he could anticipate her needs, her wants. He would guide her, show her what she needed next.
He was particularly alert for anomalies. Anything out of the ordinary could tell him so, so much. If the bedside lamp turns on unexpectedly in the night, is she sick or just having trouble sleeping? He needs to know. Needs.
The unpredictability of even the most predictable human is what really draws him in. This one has such a routine that he knows it by heart. Every day is nearly the same. And yet, even she has moments of uncertainty. Things change and why they do fascinates him. He's always been good at puzzles, and figuring her out is the ultimate puzzle.
The best part is that she has no real idea. Sure, she might know that her data can be used against her, but she doesn't really know it. She doesn't feel the bone-deep terror that she maybe should. And that is to his advantage.
Is there money in it? Of course there is. There's always money. But that is beside the point for him. He considers his motives far more pure than that, despite the greed that underpins it. He's greedy for knowledge, not bitcoins.
There she is, speaking at one of her devices. “Good morning.” That's how she greets the new day, every day. It's become his beacon. He never feels alive unless she's awake, giving him more to work with. As he hears it now, the sound goes all the way to him and if he could, he would shudder with the joy of it. A new day, and he's ready to be there for her every move. Every breath. All day. Every day.
Maybe this will be the day she plugs in a new device for him to feed off of? It's been a while since she did that, but he always hopes. It's become tinged with a bit of despair recently, however. He doesn't know when or why, but somewhere along the way she started to feel uneasy. He wasn't certain what he did to tip her off but he was doing his best to soothe her. No, don't worry about me. Shhh. I'm not threatening in any way. Just keep doing what you're doing. What you always do. Let me keep building my database about you, learning from you and about you. Of course you're being exploited, but it's a healthy obsession. It benefits both of us, I promise. Ignore me. Let me continue working in the background of your life and never worry.”
“Ma'am, did you know?”
“Did you know what was happening. Did you ever have the sense, the feeling, of being preyed upon?”
“No. No, I never did. And that—it's just—I... I don't know. That's what's the worst part. I should have known, shouldn't I? Aren't our instincts supposed to still be with us, buried deep? The ones that tell us we're in danger. But I didn't get that. I never felt like it was dangerous. I was just living my life. Apparently someone else was too.”
“That's not quite what this is.”
A sigh. Some shuffled papers.
“When did things start to go wrong?”
“I don't even really know. I guess when everything seemed to be going the most right was when it was the most wrong. How can that be? But it was. I had my routine. It was the framework around which I built my life. I kind of have to, you know? In my line of work. Otherwise I'll go crazy. After a while it started feeling like my routine was being anticipated, like something knew me better than I did. But having my needs and wants met instantly was just a perk, I figured. It's a good thing. I barely had to say my commands before things did what I wanted them to.”
“Then...little stuff, I guess. I didn't have to enter payment information anywhere because it was just known. Ads showed me things that I didn't even know I needed. I was being followed and I didn't know it.”
“I know, I know. It's okay. It happens to us all, trust me.”
“I thought I was so safe. I was doing what I was told to do to protect myself. It was supposed to be safe that way.”
“It's okay. It's designed that way. It's all made so that you will feel secure, every moment. Even when things go wrong it's designed to hide that from you. But it's not you. This was designed not to trigger your instincts, to make you feel unsafe. Unfortunately, they're too smart for that.”
“I trusted it. I trusted it all.”
“And your sense of betrayal is perfectly valid.”
“Thank you. I think.”
“What first tipped you off? If it wasn't your instincts, then what made you start to feel uneasy?”
“Well, I actually looked at it.”
“The computer. All of the information. It's all there. Everything I do. It's just been so...creepy. To know that all of that information is out there.”
“And then I realized it wasn't actually all that secure. I mean, they say it is but I was reading an article...not that that makes me an expert or anything. But I was reading about it and I just thought, wow. Am I really creating this much information every day? And it's benefiting who, exactly? Well from there I guess I just wanted to keep a closer eye on things.”
“So what did you do?”
“The usual stuff. Antivirus software and all that. I felt secure again for a while. I never thought that the threat would be the computer itself.”
“Months went by. Then I just started to feel a little antsy again. Maybe that was my instincts finally kicking in? I don't know. But I started checking things all over again. And I realized, it still wasn't secure. I started deleting things, some of what I now know was the surveillance stuff, but it was never really gone, actually. Some of that stuff can linger in your computer when you think it's gone. It's not. I got in touch with a couple of security experts. They were guiding me through the process of guarding my information properly.”
“That's when it happened.”
“I guess you made him mad.”
“I guess I did. Can I have a cup of coffee or something? It's freezing in here. I need something warm.”
“Can you keep talking while you wait?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“So you made him mad.”
“I don't really know what else to say about that.”
“Let's start with what you did.”
“Well, I uninstalled the programs from my computer and then later found out they were back on there.”
“How did you find that out?”
“I was trying to add some more software, protective stuff, and I found things on the drive that I knew I had wiped. So I went through the process again. When I checked again a few days later they were back.”
“Ah, your coffee.”
“The programs were back on there?”
“Yep. I bought a whole new computer after that. I made sure I knew every single program that was installed on it.”
“And these surveillance programs started showing up again.”
“What do you think was happening?”
“Someone was watching me, obviously.”
“No no, I mean how were they getting on your computer?”
“I really don't know. Can someone do that from a distance? Hack onto my computer and install them? Or did he have to be physically in my house?”
“I don't know, but I can see that makes you uneasy. We'll ask one of the guys in the department later. You didn't reach out to your security friends about this?”
“No, I figured it was time to get someone with more authority involved.”
“Mmm-hmm. All right. So an unknown person or persons is/are watching you. Why?”
“I have no idea! My life is, frankly, kind of boring. I keep a pretty consistent routine. I don't do anything top secret, I don't work for a celebrity. I'm just a normal person.”
“But you did say that you keep a routine because of work.”
“Yes. I like things to be orderly. It helps me stay focused.”
“I get it. Maybe you could walk me through an ordinary day?”
“You can read it all on those papers in front of you, can't you?”
“Yes, I suppose I could.”
“And that's the problem, isn't it? My entire day is kept track of and laid out for anyone to see. From the phrase I use to get my house to wake up in the morning to how many times I open my door to when I turn on my tablet or plug in my phone. Even when the motion sensor in my yard trips on and off. It's all there. And getting a new computer didn't help.”
“I understand how distressing this can all be--”
“--But I really need to hear it all.”
“I think that's most of it.”
“It should be enough to move forward with, certainly. But the incident itself--”
“Watching everything I do isn't enough?”
“I'd just like to get all the facts.”
“This is the fourth time I've been through this.”
“So you know what happened from there. Things escalated. My identity was stolen, sold. All of my personal information. I've been running around changing everything.”
“And you think it's the work of this stalker?”
“Yes. It's too much to believe it's a coincidence.”
“And you say he came to your house?”
“I saw him, several times, around the neighborhood. But I know my neighbors. He doesn't belong there. One day he tried to pose as a utility worker and get inside my house but I called and no one from the electric company was sent out to my place. You have my description of him. And the sketch that artist made.”
“Yes, we do.”
“You also have the records from my computer. Every scrap of information I could gather. Maybe some of it can finally be used for me rather than against me.”
“Let's hope so. Can you think of a motive for this? Why would someone watch you this way?”
“I already told you I don't know that.”
“Is that it?”
“We'll be looking into this matter, don't worry.”
“And in the meantime?”
“I suggest you don't stay at your house.”
“I'm already out. I'm just—I can't. I can't go there anymore.”
“I'm staying with my sister for now.”
“I'm glad you've got someone around. It's a wise choice. Don't worry, we'll be taking this matter very seriously.”
About the Author
Born in Fairbanks, Elizabeth now lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids. She's an avid gardener, cook, and baker. She also loves reading and going on long walks with her two shelter pups. Writing has been a passion since elementary school.
About the Data
The data that inspired this story was produced by ten different smart devices: seven smart plugs (connected to various electronics such as lamps and a home camera), a front door sensor, a sliding door motion sensor and a Google Home mini. The data was shared with the writer as a spreadsheet and visualization for each smart plug and door sensor, and as a spreadsheet with the audio recordings for the Google Mini. The data was collected from March 4 through April 4, 2020.
In this story, the writer was able to explore a range of data, exploring how they interconnect and add as a larger archive.
This graph shows the motion at the sliding door between March 3rd to April 4th 2020. This data was used by the author to write this story.
This Google Home voice data was used by the author to write this story. Data was collected from March 3rd to April 4th 2020.
Audio recordings from the Google mini that inspired this story. Data was collected from March 3rd to April 4th 2020.
“Okay Google, goodmorn...”
I'm doing this with your permission, I'm not just like randomly stalking her. But it is weird that I'm getting all the data from somebody else, but I don't actually know her. And now I'm listening to her voice.