Matt Towey is a 22-year-old college dropout who dreams of joining a "hacktivist" organization like Anonymous, or launching the next big tech startup. Instead, he’s a programmer for a marketing agency, helping companies sell products and services he couldn’t care less about. But that’s only by day.
At night, Matt works for The Feed, a platform on the Dark Web that gives users access to the ultimate reality show: a curated channel comprised of thousands of hacked camera feeds. Unscripted and uncensored, The Feed is the future of entertainment. It’s real reality television, and anyone can watch, for a price.
At fourteen, Matt became a Ratter, using Remote Access Trojans (RATs) like DarkComet and BlackShades to hack computers and spy on girls in his class. Since then, he’s accrued thousands of “slaves” (a real-life Ratter term), though he doesn’t like to think of them that way. To him, they’re friends, people he’s watched over weeks and months, some even for years. He knows them. Their obsessions and insecurities. Their hopes and fears. What they look like without makeup on (or without a bra).
Watching had been a hobby, a diversion to dull his overwhelming sense of loneliness and cope with family trauma, but that all changes when Matt is recruited to hack for The Feed. Desperate to be a part of something and have his talents recognized, Matt starts ratting for profit, sharing the lives of his “friends” with a wider, and anonymous audience on the Dark Web.
Then he meets Claire.
Claire, who dreams of becoming a writer, is also an observer. Like Matt, she views every observation, interaction, and experience as fodder for her craft. (Granted, their crafts are markedly different.)
Hoping to learn all he can about her, Matt hacks Claire, spying on her Skype sessions with her brother and studying her calendar so he can be in the right place at the right time.
As Matt comes to know Claire, online and off, he falls in love, becoming involved in her relationships and struggles, and even forging a connection with her brother.
But, just as his real-world relationship starts to pull him away from his digital identity, The Feed demands more.
One night, Matt and his audience witness an act of brutal domestic violence. The message board crawls with commentary and the ticker climbs as viewers tune in from other channels. The altercation ends with a gunshot, but, because it happened beyond the camera’s vantage, the woman’s fate is uncertain. As Matt looks into the circumstances, he suspects The Feed’s involvement, a deliberate interference to heighten its viewers’ experience.
As Matt becomes increasingly entangled in The Feed, he can’t help but feel that he is also being watched. Not knowing whom to trust or what is real anymore, he begins to question his own interactions and relationships.
In the end, Matt is forced to choose between the world he’s created online as an observer, and his offline reality, where he's far more vulnerable than he knows.