Selfies, Shame and Safety: Thoughts on the iCloud Hack

This weekend, the news broke that Jennifer Lawrence and many other female celebrities had their iCloud accounts hacked.  Private nude photos were stolen and posted to various internet sites.  While the violation of their privacy was terrible, the reactions seen across social media, and in the comments on the news articles make matters worse.  There is a large population that believes women who take nudes should expect to have their intimate photos broadcast across the internet, that it is inevitable…or even deserved.  If they wanted privacy, they shouldn’t have kept copies, or shared them, or stored them online, or taken the pictures in the first place.  Some say it mockingly, some say it angrily, some say it with an air of concern, but the underlying message is the same: Ladies, it’s your own damn fault that this happened to you.

Sadly, the kind of shaming going on here is nothing new.  What makes it particularly heinous in this case is its pairing with the mentality that certain people apply to online media: if I can get it, it’s mine.  They apply that twisted logic to anything…songs, movies, private photos, identity information.  They’re like toddlers, believing that any cookie they lay hands upon belongs to them, even if they ripped it from someone else’s hand or had to scale the kitchen shelves to reach it.  They cite iCloud’s vulnerability as an excuse for their behavior.  They say these women were “asking for it” by storing photos online.

Just because you can reach the cookie jar doesn't make them your cookies.

Just because you can reach the cookie jar doesn’t make them your cookies.

Let’s be clear.  This incident is not a “leak”, as many news outlets first called it.  That word implies an accidental breach of privacy, the wrong key pressed by hurried fingers, a message inadvertently forwarded to the wrong address. The person or people who stole those photos deliberately circumvented security measures with the intent to steal private data, then compounded the theft by publishing the photos they obtained.  What happened here is a crime, plain and simple. 1    These photos making their way into the public eye is not the fault of the victims.  The existence of nude photos does not equal consent to having those images spread far and wide across the internet.  The fact that someone is a celebrity does not mean that they have surrendered all rights to privacy.  Storing photos online is not permission for them to be taken, just as a short skirt is not an invitation to rape.

It will likely take these women a long time to get their photos out of circulation, and even longer for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.  We can’t undo the damage that was done, but we can do a couple of basic things to support the victims.

  • Don’t look at or share the pictures – I would hope that this goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway, just in case.  Looking at these stolen pictures is choosing to participate in the assault on these women.  If you’re writing about the this topic, don’t link to the photos.  If a friend of yours has downloaded the pictures or talks about checking them out, they need to be set straight.
  • Challenge slut-shaming and victim blaming – There are a lot of very loud voices out there telling the world why these women “deserved” to have their privacy violated.  Don’t let them be the only ones being heard.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with consenting adults taking nude photos, whether to share with a partner or just for fun.  It’s not scandalous that these women took these pictures, it’s scandalous that someone decided to steal them.

If you’re a sexting fan (like me), this incident probably raised some worries about your own privacy.  You can still enjoy your photo fun, but a quick security check is in order.

  • Make sure you’ve got a good, solid password on any storage or email accounts with your intimate photos.  Use upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.  Do not, under any circumstance ever, use the word “password” as your password.
  • Check your phone settings to see if pictures are being automatically backed up to the cloud without your knowledge. 2 If you’ve been backing things up, take a look at what’s out there.  Deleting a picture from your phone generally won’t erase the online backup copy, so there may be more than you think.
  • Seriously think about using two step authentication for cloud storage if you aren’t already.  Adding that extra step to your login process makes your account much more secure.  This article walks you through the setup for major cloud storage providers.
  • Don’t forget to password protect your smartphone and other mobile devices.  An unprotected mobile device can provide anyone with access to huge amounts of your personal data.

If you’re using iCloud to store photos, you may want to consider relocating your most sensitive files.  There are rumors that this may be the first of many iCloud attacks.  To learn more about how to protect yourself online, I highly recommend A Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue.  The book has a wealth of information, and the Kindle edition is available on Amazon for only $6.99.

  1. That being said, Apple carries some significant responsibility for allowing this to happen.  This article on Slate sums up the issues well if you’re curious.
  2. Automatic backup is the default setting on iPhones.
  • Teal Valentine
    September 2, 2014

    I cannot believe some people blame those whose photos were stolen for this! That is not okay, consent is everything.

    Having read the article you linked, this is clearly Apple’s fault and they should be ashamed of themselves. Yet another point to add to my “list of reasons why I will never buy anything from Apple”. Truly awful.

  • Jade
    September 5, 2014

    Awake at 3am, reading random articles on the net, and I ran across the story (I had heard about it in posing but not read any of the articles yet.) The comments, like yours referenced above, made my blood boil. I had half a mind to retort back, but (sigh) I can’t deal with internet drama. I thought maybe write a post on it. But now I don’t have to! You said it all, and better than I probably could have.

  • John
    September 8, 2014

    I read The Register among other stories; the security measures in Apple’s 2FA are basically worthless.

    But … celebrities aren’t nerds; they don’t know. Hell, I don’t use much 2FA and I know so much in the financial IT world isn’t 2FA (and some “2FA” isn’t actually two factor authentication)

    I still put the blame at the millions of people who think they have a right to peruse this photos. No-one else. The demand was there, the hackers provided for the demand. Kill the demand, and there is no supply. Lots of education is needed IMO

    • Lunabelle
      September 8, 2014

      Admittedly, controlling the demand is the larger issue. And I think there is some progress, slow though it may be. In the meantime, I’ll just be reading up on security to be safe… because we clearly can’t trust large corporations to have our best interests at heart!

  • @CavaSupernova
    September 16, 2014

    “This incident is not a “leak”, as many news outlets first called it. What happened here is a crime, plain and simple. These photos making their way into the public eye is not the fault of the victims.”

    Yes, yes – a thousand times yes! Why don’t people get this bit?

    In general, I’ve no time for celebrities whingeing about their lack of privacy, when they spend all their free time in The Groucho Club, The Ivy and other confirmed paparazzi haunts.

    Look at Keanu Reeves, for example, massive star, has always maintained a really low profile by staying away from celeb haunts. Cate Blanchette, Nicole Kidman… they all manage not to get papped.

    HOWEVER, regardless of celeb status (or not), we all have a right for our private, password-protected stuff to remain private.
    Great tips on this post too.

    • Lunabelle
      September 16, 2014

      I’d love to live in a world where everyone understands that password-protected photos are private and respects that designation. Or at least in a world where people don’t share stolen photos when they see them. Until that happens (and I’m not holding my breath), I’m hoping those tips help people keep their photos and data private. I learned the other day that 80-90% of security breaches are accomplished with very basic tools, so a few simple security upgrades can stop a lot of attacks.

  • Vivian
    September 17, 2014

    I was talking to a friend about this just last night. He’s usually pretty open about things, but it was hard for him to see why this was such a violation of privacy, or a form of sexual assault. It was especially difficult to get this point across:

    “Looking at these stolen pictures is choosing to participate in the assault on these women. ”

    I told him that it was a form of non-consent, but his notion was “Well if it’s online I can look at it.” I was so disheartened, I didn’t know what to do 🙁

    I definitely agree that the comments people are making are the worst part about this… but how can we change this? If our own friends are of the mind that it’s okay to look, even though these were stolen photos, even though it’s a kind of assault? Where do we even begin?

    • Lunabelle
      September 19, 2014

      We begin in the only place we can: Speaking the truth, loudly and often. Every great change in society has seemed impossible at first. When I was in high school, no one thought society would accept same sex marriage…now the majority of Americans support it. If enough people speak up for the victims of these crimes, perception will eventually change. I’m not saying it will be easy or fast, but it can be done.

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