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Maximize Revenue

Chris Limb is a writer and designer based in Brighton, UK.

After many years hovering on the periphery of the music industry--originally just going to gigs but eventually graduating to selling t-shirts and badges plus operating the lighting rig for bands--in 2011 he published a pop memoir, I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan which went down well with its core audience, received good reviews, and continues to sell at a steady rate.

Chris reviews books and audiobooks for the British Fantasy Society and has blogged on a regular basis since mid-2009. In addition he writes short stories, a number of which have been published over the past eighteen months, with more to come.

Chris's debut novel Comeback is currently being submitted to agents and publishers and he recently completed work on the first draft of the follow up Ghostdance.

When time allows Chris also plays bass guitar in a couple of bands as well as performing random acts of web and graphic design for a diverse selection of clients in the comedy and theatre scenes.

Em wakes to darkness.
She thumbs the switch beside her bed but nothing happens. Not again. Her credit's run out overnight. In theory this means she'll have to do some work today to get the electricity back on, but in the meantime daylight will have to do. She flings the thin duvet aside, crawls to the end of her bed and cranks the handle to open the shutters on the exterior window.
Outside it's grey and wet. The surface of the tarmac in which the stack of container-pods stands is thick with puddles, and even though she's on the fifth level, Em can see them shimmer as the rain persists. To confirm this impression a squall tosses a handful of drops at the window like a half-hearted vandal. She hates that desultory clatter and will do anything to avoid going out on a day like this.
The metal floor of the container-pod is cold under her feet. Every day she vows to spend some credit on a rug and every day she runs out before getting the chance. A warm yellow light briefly illuminates the room but it's just an ad for Instant Cash Superstores on the blank side of the building opposite. It's been played so many times recently that she's intimately familiar with the patterns of light and dark it casts into her home. By the time she sits down at the deskshelf it's faded, leaving her stranded back in the grey half-light.
Her cheap tablet has been plugged into the charger all night; she hopes it's got enough juice. There's still electricity flowing through the pod of course, the black hemisphere of the CCTV-camera housing above the door must draw some power and in theory is switched on 24/7. So is the Wi-Fi. However hacking into either of them to steal electricity would be a very bad idea. Em doesn't know anyone that's tried but there are stories....
Far better to work within the system and turn the situation to your own advantage.
The tablet has 15% power. Enough to make a start. If the worst comes to the worst she's got a set of pedals underneath the deskshelf that are linked up to a low-end dynamo she got from the Recycle Store.
She logs into the CreditApp and checks her statement. Scanning back she can see that some of the semi-regular associate payments stopped coming in about two weeks ago which explains why her account has run dry. It makes sense; she's been too busy to get up to anything sub-legal recently so surveillance must have been scaled back to automatic. And there is no profit in being watched by bots.
The trick is to muck around on the fringes, get up to stuff that raises enough flags for them to assign a human being to the other end of the camera but not enough to actually get her arrested. When she first worked out the ideal way of doing this the irony made her smile.
She taps at an open source development tool and logs into one of the ad-blocking forums. There's an irony here too; in order not to raise suspicion and get shut down the forum itself displays ads.
Most of the threads are concerned with reopening gaps in browser software that security updates have plugged. Whilst it's not strictly against the law to block ads, possession of algorithms that allow you to do so is, so there's a constant evolutionary process going on.
Even though she understands a lot of it, Em doesn't actually need to get involved with the minutiae. She could actually become quite good at this if she wasn't so afraid of the consequences. But all she's after is the suspicion.
Half an hour spent reading the threads and posting comments usually does it but just to be on the safe side she logs on to SoftHub and downloads some beta components.
Still nothing. They're slow today.
She starts compiling the components into extensions to apply to her browser and only then does the power come back on. She's been flagged and they've assigned a human being to watch her. And this means that within a few minutes she's earned enough credits to top up her electricity supply. As long as she continues raising suspicion she should be able to earn enough in the next few days to cover six weeks or so.
In a world where everything is commercially exploited the advertisement is sacrosanct and there isn't a single niche they haven't tried to exploit. Not many people have caught on to it yet but selling ad space on your CCTV surveillance feed pays as long as you're being watched.
Em sets a couple more ad-blocking extensions compiling on her tablet and crawls back into bed.
She loves ads.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Author Comments

I spend a lot of time online as part of my job. The idea for this story came about when considering the perpetual battle between marketing executives and website owners (desperate to get people to interact with their adverts) and the audience (keen to ignore and avoid anything that even remotely looks like an advert). Sometimes the former discover a new niche to exploit and pull ahead but it's never long before the latter get wise to it.

Surely it's only a matter of time before everything is monetized in this manner?

Given the burgeoning surveillance culture worldwide, the concept of CCTV feeds as an unexploited source of eyeballs was irresistible....

- Chris Limb
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