Turning Point: Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm, harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network alerting users.We have long ago come to terms with the trade-off that to participate in social media, we must first give up our privacy. We sacrifice vital parts of our personal data so that we may amplify our voice, stroke our ego and connect with a virtual tribe. Turning Points asked the writer Maggie Shen King to explore a data-driven dystopia, and she responded with a piece of flash fiction.Sofie could not understand why the bidding stopped a week ago. Her database of 87 million Facebook records was the weapon of the century. Its cache of personal information made spear phishing child’s play. A pre-emptive bid should have ended her auction before it even began.She checked her countdown clock — 5 minutes 39 seconds. Auctions were, of course, all about the last seconds. She hadn’t a doubt she’d lured all the right players to her party, so why was the bid stuck at half of where it should be?Her stomach would not stop churning. She pinched her wrist and held her breath.These records were hers. She was the one smart enough to grab them before Cambridge Analytica blew up and kicked her to the curb. What she was doing was no different than what her employer had done to Facebook and what Facebook had done to their users. And had those users not valued the serendipitous reconnections with high school boyfriends, the ego strokes from bragging about their expensive vacations and their little child prodigies and a public forum in which to harangue their elected officials, they would not have put their private information out there.Facebook users understood that they had to give away a part of themselves for easy connections and the much-coveted limelight.Sofie tore off a hangnail with her teeth. She had become her father. She’d thumbed her nose at his poker dens and bookie operation, signed her name to a boatload of student loans and declared independence. But after Cambridge Analytica gave her the boot without so much as a kind word or her last paycheck, she finally understood that money bought self-respect. Without self-respect, she was nothing.She returned to her auction site on the dark web. Still no action. Her reserve price had surfaced the four whales. Would she be showing weakness or, worse, desperation sending them a reminder? No, she was in charge, and she would demonstrate that with a final prod, a do-it-or-lose-forever stick-in-the-eye. Above all else, her bidders could not abide losing. Nor could they afford to.She began with Saeed, her Iranian contact. Micro-targeted spear phishing would be much more potent than the SQL injection and DDoS attacks they had used to cripple American banking websites. Her database would provide a rash of entry points for their malware to take down Saudi oil fields.Salâam alaikum. Our auction ends in 4 minutes. Just between us, the Chinese are coming in with a billion at the close. I’d rather you win AND stick it to the American infidels by paying me with their hostage ransom money. Are you going to let their crippling sanctions and the Israeli destruction of your priceless centrifuges go unanswered?She waited for a reply, but heard just the drumming of her own heart. She moved on to Pak, her North Korean connection. Their Reconnaissance General Bureau was at least 5,000 hackers strong and adept at brute force cyberattacks. Their email hack of Sony Pictures for the lampooning of their supreme leader had devastated the company. With Sofie’s database, they could take down more financial institutions and military agencies, keep themselves on the world stage and finance their feeble economy at the same time.정식여보세요. Billion dollar bid just came in from your neighbor. Show your rivals you are no laughingstock. Long live North Korean strength, unpredictability and wily intelligence!Her laptop pinged. She pumped her fist: Her two messages were just opened.Three minutes and counting. Sofie forged ahead and considered how best to rile Misha. He represented a coalition that included the Russian government, wealthy oligarchs and criminal gangs. Should she emphasize the financial gain possible with the pairing of her database and the massive storehouse of credit card information that their mafia had already amassed? The opportunity to disrupt Western military, electrical and banking infrastructures? The ability to misinform, divide and reshape Western opinions? She went for the highest stake.Приве́т. Auction for the weapon of the century is ending. The Chinese have sent in a kill bid. I’m obligated to take it, but hey, I make the rules. I’d prefer my database be used to change elections and blackmail hypocritical, holier-than-thou American politicians. And smarmy British toadies. And German rats. You have 90 seconds to win this.With less than 2 minutes left, she considered ignoring Lao Da. The Chinese had ticked her off with two insultingly low “fill-or-kill” bids and then threatened to walk away. They returned each time though, unabashed. They had more resources than all of the other bidders combined and were above spear phishing for petty gains. By combining Sofie’s database with the 22 million U.S. Office of Personnel Management files in their possession, they could steal intellectual properties and military secrets at will for their industrial and state-owned operations.The Russians have come to play with a cool billion. Can you do better??? You have 30 seconds to enter your final bid.Watching her clock tick down, Sofie dug the tip of her father’s lucky Montblanc — the one he reserved for his second set of books — into her thigh. She smiled picturing him tossing his apartment for it and cursing her.At 00:30, her message box began to ding. She was right. Auctions happened in the last seconds. Her body went limp with relief.$525 million final bid, $530 million, $505 million and $509 million.The bastards were colluding. Not only did they disregard her billion-dollar threat, their bids were obscenely close. Someone had unlocked the multilayer state-of-the-art security on her site and contacted their rivals. Of course they did. She was dealing with the best hackers in the world. Sofie’s head pounded with rage.Maggie Shen KingCreditConnie TamaddonShe should invalidate the auction and start over. The thought depressed her. It had taken her nearly a year to disguise her identity, set up her site, get the word out, vet all the players and create an airtight verification process. Moreover, portions of her data were time sensitive.By colluding, they would all get her database, so why shouldn’t they each pay her price? They had invalidated the auction. A new game was in play.A corner of her lip crooked upward as Sofie crafted her message. She congratulated each player for winning the auction at their submitted bid and enclosed an OAuth token — good for 1 minute only — that would unlock the encryption keys to her database upon the transfer of funds. One way or another, she would get her billion dollars.