Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Illusion of Internet Privacy

Recently, I made a few incendiary posts on Twitter and Facebook suggesting that people who take naked pictures of themselves deserve to have their personal accounts hacked and their photos spread across the web. While I admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude when seeing people flounder because of what I view as foolish choices, I don't consider them to be deserving of the criminal acts committed against them. With that said, I firmly believe that people need to consider the risks involved with what they do, and decide if the consequences are something they can live with before taking action. 

Lots of people are attempting to make this whole thing sexual or sexist, I don't see the issue as being sexual, in my mind it's about theft of intellectual property that just so happens to be sexual.* When we have these kinds of discussions it tends to get emotionally charged, and we all know that strong emotions are not conducive to a rational and well balanced argument. So I'm going to state my position with an analogy that isn't (well I hope) sexual nor emotionally charged. 

As we have been shown time and time again, the internet is not a secure place. How often do we see news stories of mega corporations being hacked or the government hacking us? I've personally had my identity stolen and my wife as well. We take risks every day with every choice we make. What we do, how we spend our money, who we associate with, all of these decisions are (should) be made after considering the cost / benefit ratio. Despite the fact that I have had my identity stolen, I continue to use online banking and credit cards because, to me, the benefit outweighs the risks. Other people feel differently and choose to stick to cash because it's arguably safer. 

So let me put it this way: 

Eminem is working on a new record. He decides to store that content on a private server or cloud despite knowing that celebrities are often targets of cyber attacks. It gets hacked and his new album leaks all over the internet before it's ready. Eminem is ashamed and embarrassed that his work was exploited in this way. My initial response? "Sorry, but you should have known better!" Do I feel bad for him? YES! Does it mean he's somehow liable for the criminal actions of the hackers who stole his record? NO! Was it his fault? NO! But should he have been mindful about the dangers of storing sensitive intellectual property on a notoriously unsafe medium? ABSOLUTELY! 

The world is a harsh and cruel place. Criminals are always looking for the easy target. Of course people have the right to take any pictures of themselves that they want (or do whatever else they fancy for that matter), and they shouldn't have to fear reprisal for it. But I am a realist, and I accept that we have to operate in the world as it is, not as it ought to be. All I am suggesting is that we look at ourselves, examine what makes us targets to the shitty people of the world and actively take steps to avoid having the crosshairs land on our forehead. 

* I acknowledge the emotional turmoil that such a violation of privacy entails. What I don't accept is the claim that the act of hacking is in itself sexual, despite the sexual nature of the content. Hackers, like paparazzi, are driven by the thrill of the hunt and the profit to be gained by their success. The demand itself, I believe, is the public's inherent need to see other people fail and suffer. When we see a celebrity get sent to rehab or have their private lives exposed, we feel better about ourselves for some awful reason. But that's an entirely different can of worms.