Is there Empathy in the Cloud? About those Stolen Nudes

Is there empathy in the cloud?
Is there empathy in the cloud?

Let me set some expectations before you decide if this article is worth your time. This piece talks about the recently leaked celebrity nudes that are up all over the internet, if that isn’t a big enough TRIGGER WARNING for you then read further.

My article will not:

      • shame anyone for taking sexy-selfies
      • deny the role of personal responsibility in protecting your data
      • celebrate the recent leaks
      • OR scold anyone for looking at them

So what’s my angle? I’m going to talk about how ridicule in the public square reveals an empathy gap, how cyber-bully attacks on celebrities run off onto the community, and how security breaches affect everyone. My ultimate argument is: if you store sensitive material on your technology you should feel just as violated as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton.

Even if you keep all your valuables buried in a doomsday bunker, there’s still a reason for you to read on from here.

My goal isn’t to lead pitchforks to Apple’s doorstep or reverse engineer the hackers’ methods. My agenda is to make a plea for empathy, to persuade you from giving into mob mentality.

How Stolen Celebrity Photos Violate All Our Privacy

When celebrity nudes leak, the internet reacts like they’re a gift, thanking the hackers for uncovering them, with more praise than anyone gave Edward Snowden. This weekend the twitter community collectively ogled actresses and models. While some users shared too much information about their blistered palms, others shamed the celebs for taking the photos in the first place.

Twitter users said things like, “Why would celebrities put nude photos on devices connected to the internet? Don’t they know that when they walk out on talk shows we Google their name for naked pics before they can sit? They’re public figures and their figures should be available to the public. Their fame entitles us to see their every curve and crevice.”

Hacker’s claim they found an exploit in Apple’s iCloud service, allowing them to gain access to targeted figures, promising more nudes in the future. Whether you believe celebrities deserve their privacy or you’re happy to take a peak, you should think about what it means if someone has access to this information.

iCloud doesn’t just back up photos, for iPhone and iPad users it backs up everything, including: contacts, addresses, notes, in-app information, and purchases. For Mac users, iCloud backs up all of your Pages, Numbers, and Keynote documents. For Windows users it can back up contacts and iTunes songs. iCloud is a treasure trove of personal, professional, and financial information.

Think about how this breach applies to you or someone you know, before you start selfie-shaming.

It’s not just photos that are sensitive material, it’s things like Stephenie Meyer’s fifth Twilight novel, which was put “on hold indefinitely” after it was accidentally released, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful 8 screenplay, that almost suffered the same fate. In both cases early drafts were leaked by trusted friends, think about how breaches of artists’ technology could kill so many more projects in the process.

Some of you might be thinking, “So, I don’t have sexy selfies or magnum opuses worth stealing. I’m a nobody. Who would want to hack me?”

Hackers claimed to have breached iCloud back in May. Users reported being locked out of their phones, seeing messages that said if they ever wanted to use their AppleIDs again, they’d have to send money to a PayPal account. Someone was holding their profiles hostage. Sure, they could restore their phones to factory settings, but they’d be locked out of their IDs forever. This meant all their contacts, apps, and personal data would be lost unless they paid the ransom.

The question shouldn’t be “Why would someone put nude photos on devices connected to the Internet?” It should be, “Why would anyone put sensitive information on devices connected to the Internet?”

The answer is a little more obvious when phrased like that. We do it because it’s convenient. We do it because we trust the services we depend on. We do it because we’ve replaced all the other places we used to put that information.

I’m not shocked that celebrities are sending topless photos to their lovers, nor am I shocked they didn’t use two-step verification to protect them. These are new technologies and we’re still figuring out how they work. We’re all learning harsh lessons when it comes to sexting. Delete a photo on your phone, it might still be in your cloud backup. Actress, Mary Elizabeth Winstead claimed she’d deleted her photos two years ago, but somehow someone was able to unearth them.

What shocks me is the empathy gap, the notion that if these women didn’t want these photos shown they shouldn’t have used their phone. Think about that the next time you pay for something online, send a drunken text, or enter your home address into a map app.

If you think you have no personal information worth stealing, you’re not using your imagination.

What if someone get’s it in their head to stalk you and a breach gives them all the tools they need? What if one day you become a public figure and a photo of you taking a hit off a bong surfaces? What if one of your kids makes a stupid mistake and someone shares it around the schoolyard? You warned them all about the dangers of sexting, but they were in love and did it anyway. Would you tell your child, “Well, this ought to be a good lesson in personal responsibility.”

I hate resorting to the “won’t somebody please think of the children” argument, but in this case it’s applicable. Every year there are articles about students switching schools when sexts go public, or killing themselves after sexts lead to constant harassment.

Should We have different Empathy Standards for Celebrities?

You might think I’m missing the point, that there’s a guilty pleasure in seeing people of higher stature brought down to earth. Legions of fans are a superficial support system. Celebrity status is not a bullet proof vest. Money doesn’t shield anyone from mockery.  It’s a copout to say, “All these starlets can just cry into their cash.”

I’ve seen twitter users make fun of these leaked photographs, saying these women look like train wrecks without the benefit of Photoshop. If you’re upset with magazine culture’s obsession with beauty, who should you direct your anger at: the Photoshopped subject, the person behind the mousepad, or yourself for buying into any of it?

Don’t think mocking a public figure will somehow elevate your stature. Don’t disregard the golden rule when it comes to celebrities. Don’t sacrifice your empathy for the sake of your envy.

It’s easy to lob things at people we’ve put up on pedestals. Some of them might even take their tomatoes in stride, but most of those tomatoes splash back onto the community, and right now we all look pretty damn silly.

2 thoughts on “Is there Empathy in the Cloud? About those Stolen Nudes”

  1. You make a lot of good points here, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just pick one to comment about: celebrities and privacy. It’s interesting and perhaps tragic to note that, even under the law, celebrities are not granted the same rights of privacy as others. Take paparazzi for example. They can follow celebrities around, stalk them, take unwanted photos of them, and post them wherever they want under the claim that it’s “journalism.” Now, the line between freedom of the press and harassment is a complicated one, but on a basic level, there’s certain lines that a photographer can cross where they’re breaking the law . . . if it’s with a normal citizen. But celebrities who’ve tried to sue paparazzi for harassment have often failed because the courts ruled that their status as public figures means the same rules don’t apply to them.

    There’s a story from last year talking about exactly this sort of thing: http://www.businessinsider.com/halle-berry-and-jennifer-garner-fight-for-anti-paparazzi-laws-2013-8 People camped outside celebrity’s houses, lying in wait to ambush them. That’s crossing a line. But oftentimes, there’s nothing people can do to stop it.

    Like

    1. Something about the way the paparazzi treats celebrities, especially young women, has a toxic affect on society. I don’t think the violation ends at these actresses doorsteps. I think it overflows into the culture at large.

      Thank you so much commenting. The fact that these women’s privacy isn’t being protected is disheartening.

      I’m really glad to see so many people I respect and admire standing on the right side of this issue.

      Like

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