Everyone has been talking recently about the huge iCloud hack last weekend. While a lot of people are outraged on behalf of the victims, a disturbingly high number of people seem to think these celebrities brought the theft and the resulting publicity on themselves.
If you take nude selfies and share them in any digital format, should you expect them to be stolen and reposted? In other words, if you store or share sensitive data online, do you still deserve privacy?
Storing nude or sexually explicit photos somewhere like iCloud is asking for trouble, the argument goes, because the victims are young, attractive, and famous. All of these categories make them more “at risk” for having their privacy violated, because who doesn’t want to look at sexy photos of hot young celebrities?
As women, they’re even more likely to be targeted by this kind of harassment than male celebrities, for example. After all, victims of “revenge porn” are almost exclusively female. In other words, the internet already has a penchant for publishing nude photos of women without their consent to “punish” them by making the images freely available.
With all that in mind, why weren’t they more careful? Wouldn’t the smart choice be simply not to take these photos in the first place? Or if they still choose to take them, should they have to accept as inevitable that these photos will go public?
To me, this seems like a grossly unfair reaction. These women own their bodies and are allowed to do whatever the hell they want with them. They’re allowed to share their private lives with some people and not others at their discretion. This is a pretty basic human right, and it’s kind of sickening that it’s being called into question here.
So they’re allowed to take photos of themselves doing anything they want . . . but should they have stored these photos online? Let’s consider the alternative: Jennifer Lawrence took Polaroids of herself nude and put them in a drawer in her home. It’s possible that a thief could into her home, find the photos, scan them, and post them on 4Chan, but it is much less likely. And if that happened, would we be arguing that she’d brought this theft on herself by not having a better security system installed?
What exactly is the “risky” behavior here, then? Was it taking and storing these photos in a digital format, where they’re more easily distributed? Was it uploading them to a public server where they were potentially vulnerable to hacking? Or was it doing all of the above, and then protecting that public account with a weak password?
For the record, privacy isn’t the only or even the most important conversation to emerge from this hack. It’s generated a lot of discussion about our ideas that we have a right to these women’s bodies, that sexually explicit behavior from women is still considered “punishable”, and even that if they’ve ever taken semi-explicit photos in the past, they somehow no longer have a right to be upset when these other images are stolen – as if, having given consent to one image or film at one time, they’ve somehow abdicated their right to give or deny consent for all future images. As important as these discussions are, I think there is a question fewer people are asking: should we be able to upload private data to the internet and trust that it will stay private, no matter what kind of data it is or who we are?
This isn’t just a problem that affects celebrities. We all have things we’d like to be able to store or access online without having to “assume” it will eventually get hacked and go public. This could be our tax information, horrible LiveJournal poetry, or videos of ourselves enjoying BDSM roleplay. I don’t want to have to store my photos in a cardboard box to be sure they’re safe, but I don’t want them to be visible to just anyone, either.
Unfortunately there’s no way to stop people from trying to steal and distribute this private content for personal gain, so the onus is on us to make sure the process of storing and sharing data is secure. These celebs probably could have prevented the theft by using more secure technologies, generating stronger passwords, or even encrypting the data before it ever got put online. If more people understood how to protect their online privacy, and more reliable technologies were available, leaks like this would occur much less frequently. Whether the victims uploaded unencrypted data to iCloud out of ignorance, naivete, or apathy, they’re paying for the decision now.
SO DID THESE CELEBRITIES FORFEIT THEIR RIGHT TO PRIVACY BY PUTTING NUDE PHOTOS ON ICLOUD?
To me, the answer is simple. Everyone deserves privacy. Everyone should be able to use the internet to store or disseminate data at their discretion and only with their consent. It doesn’t matter whether it’s nude selfies, medical documents, or correspondence with a client: we need to promote and publicize the technologies and habits that make it possible to share data securely.
Privacy is a right, but for now it’s still one we have to fight to maintain.