They’re Thieves, Not “Hackers:” My current take on the celebrity nude photo hack

This article’s long overdue – ever since someone “hacked” (more on this in a bit) into Apple’s iCloud accounts and posted a bunch of nude photos of famous celebs, I’ve been a vocal, unsympathetic activist on Facebook.  Unfortunately, the more time passes, the more things come out, and the real ugliness of this situation comes into focus.  The major takeaway:  People aren’t getting it.

Today Jennifer Lawrence claimed that she was “sexually assaulted” by the people who stole and posted these pictures – and the people who searched for and viewed them.  That’s harsh, even for me – while I understand that she’s the victim, lashing out at people who went to see the end result isn’t going to improve anything.

Let’s try to sort things out, shall we?

1.  WE NEED TO QUIT BLAMING THE VICTIMS.  Let’s suppose you had a storage unit that you paid rent for.  Among the things you decide to store there:  older, private documents you only need to keep around or share with a few people.  (Why they’re stored there and not at home?  Not important at the moment, and we’ll come back to it.)  One day you wake up and find all of those documents exposed all over the front page of a national newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal, along with hundreds of other people who also stored similar documents at the same place, which was once labelled “Most secure place in town.”  Who’s at fault for the break-in:  You, the storage company, or the thieves who stole the documents?

The fact that the sensitive documents, in this case, were naked photos doesn’t matter.  The fact that the storage firm was, in fact, Apple, doesn’t matter.  At the end of the day, a thief broke in, stole your stuff, and exposed it for the world to see.  You were the victim, regardless of whatever bad choices you made to contribute to this – and you’d feel just as violated and disrespected if you had this happen to you.

2.  This was a targeted attack.  Notice something odd about whose photos and accounts were stolen and exposed?  Notice what’s NOT being reported with this?  These thieves may have been targeting the storage company in an effort to ruin their reputation, but they were specific about what they took and exposed to the world.  I bring this up because it’s awfully funny how a friend of one of the victims would get her own moment of victimization when someone threatened to expose the exact same type of documents about her – other than storing at the same place and being the same type of people as the other victims, she became a victim herself by being threatened with the same problem.

These people were the victims.

3.  The criminals who did this were a number of things, but they weren’t “hackers.”  One of the things I am sick of, when it comes to online data theft, is the label that used to mean something good, something not so sinister and evil, that gets thrown around like a used condom at a sex party.  (Yes, I find it that nasty – that’s specifically why I chose that analogy there!)  “Hacking” has always involved information, but there’s been a good side usually:  The opportunity to improve upon or learn from stuff, or modify it for your personal needs.  Someone stealing data to post online, either for cost or for free, isn’t any more of a hacker than the thief that broke into those storage units and stole those personal documents:  The fact that they shared them with people that posted them in the newspaper also makes them bullies and jerks.  Let’s straighten the label out.

4.  We need to learn some things from this.   Clearly, there’s all sorts of things to be discussed here, and most people have one thing to learn:

  • If you don’t want to risk something important leaking out, the safest place is one closest to you.  I used the analogy of a storage unit instead of a home because in both cases, you’re insuring the safety and security of your property to someone else.  Just as people can steal and pass fake ID’s in the real world, people can do the same thing online – it doesn’t matter the firm you’re with or how much you invest into it.  While someone can easily break into a home to steal those documents, you’ll know sooner if it happens, and you can do more to protect and prevent the knowledge of their existence.  If it’s important, store it at home – not online.
  • The fact that someone is rich, famous, good-looking, female, or any other reason IS NOT a good reason to make anyone feel bad.  One of the disturbing things to learn about this was a possible why these women were targeted:  to bully them into being weak by a group of male idiots.  (If you’re dumb enough to believe that anyone should be above someone else, then “idiot” is an appropriate name for you.)  Apart from all of the comments suggesting the victims got what they deserved, there was a lot of ass-hattery surrounding the comments made about this.  At the end of the day, they’re just as human, just as fragile in mind, body and spirit as those of us “ordinary” folk are, and they deserve the same amount of respect we’d treat any other ordinary person.
  • We need to encourage the spread of proper criminal laws designed to treat these criminals as we would ordinary thieves –  and then we need to enforce them!  This is just the latest in a string of various hacks and information exposure designed either to scare, extort, or outright steal what is not theirs, and it’s about time we did something about it.  The international community needs to come together and come down hard on these acts, treating these people as if they’re thieves and bullies – because that’s exactly what they are!  It doesn’t matter if it’s someones credit card or their bare butt, if you wouldn’t go into a store and steal a loaf of bread you shouldn’t be taking what isn’t yours online.
  • Preach responsibility – don’t attack.  Even if you can’t find sympathy for the victims, it’s not hard to teach others how to avoid this (or any other avoidable mistake.)  You wouldn’t say some kid standing on the edge of a road watching a parade go by would deserve to be hit by a drunk driver swerving specifically to hit said kid, would you?  Yes, the parents should have kept a better eye on him, and possibly didn’t know how, but lack of knowledge and understanding doesn’t always mean they “deserve” it.  Let’s encourage others how to avoid this INSTEAD of attacking those victimized for not knowing better.
  • Finally – and this is a suggestion, not something to learn – the victims should OWN THIS.  The major reason I feel bad for these victims right now is the possible motives behind this, and I find the people who did this to be disgusting jerks who deserve shame, not reward.  There’s not a whole lot they can do to attack the villains here, beyond going on the news with their complaints and pestering law enforcement and politicians into doing something.  One thing they can do, especially given the circumstances, is to flip the script:  Turn the photos into art, give them away freely, sell them as a way to donate to charity, etc.  You can’t take back what’s already out there, but you can use those images to your own purposes and get one back at them, if you choose.

I hope something positive comes of it soon, because I’m really sick of the negative.  I hope they catch and punish harshly the criminals behind this, and I hope the victims get justice.

P.S.  I’m sure people are going to call me a hypocrite for what I’ve said, because I was harsher on them than I am now.  The thing is, new information comes in and changes people’s minds, and that’s what happened here.  I still feel strongly that you’re ultimately responsible for your safety and the safety of those things around you, but sometimes you have things that shouldn’t happen regardless of how irresponsible a person is. I’m not going to apologize for preaching responsibility, because that was (and is still) their mistake; I understand the extent of the circumstances involved, however, and can sympathize withe them for it.

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