In the past months hackers have released waves of photos stolen from celebrities’ phones and online storage accounts. Most of the photos were nude shots taken by the (mostly female) celebrities themselves, causing a huge stir on the internet as Google and image hosting sites frantically tried to delete links to the photos. While some of the women made light of the hack, others reacted furiously to the invasion of their privacy. Just as coverage was dying down, hackers published nude photos they had accessed through the photo-sharing app Snapchat – an app which automatically deletes photos after viewing. The whole thing has sparked debate about who is to blame, internet culture and how we treat celebrities – questions worth looking closer at.
While obviously the hackers themselves are responsible for leaking the photos, fingers have been pointed at Apple’s iCloud, their online storage service. iCloud allows people to access their files on any Apple device, and is protected by a password. It seems that hackers managed to gain access to the celebrities’ accounts by either managing to gain passwords, or enter passwords repeatedly until getting lucky. Apple has since introduced new security measures, and is encouraging people to use other forms of account security. In the case of the Snapchat leaks, the photos were taken from people using other apps to try and save their Snapchat photos – something Snapchat strongly advises not to do.
However, one bizarre aspect of the leaks is the amount of people saying that the celebrities themselves are indirectly to blame. Most of these arguments went along the lines of “if you don’t want your nude photos leaked, don’t take nude photos”. In my opinion a similar argument would be “if you don’t want your nice car stolen, don’t buy a nice car”. It just doesn’t make sense. Others columnists – mostly from an older generation – have criticised the whole concept of taking nude photos, with one referring to women “[posing] like harlots for their boyfriends”. Again, this feels like blaming the victim. Western society has by now accepted that what two adults do in the bedroom is their business alone. If that involves nude photos then that’s up to them. It’s where the nude photos are shared that’s the real problem.
Nowadays we increasingly have the assumption that the internet is an unsafe place. With hackers trying to steal information and our governments spying on us, most people assume that if you’re not highly careful, someone out there can find out what you’re up to. At the same time though, we put more of our lives online than ever before. The cloud holds all our emails and files, Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype hold all our private conversations, and every website we visit does its best to record that fact with cookies. This means that we basically haven’t quite figured out yet if we can expect privacy on the internet. So when iCloud turns out to be less secure for celebrities than they thought, they get blamed for doing something ‘stupid’, when they’re just using services we all use every day. To go back to the car metaphor, the internet is like a sketchy part of town. If you park your car there it’s still not your fault if it gets stolen – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to make sure you’ve locked it well.
Finally, the reaction to the leaks shows to what extent people these days think they have a right to know everything about the lives of the famous. In one way they have a point. Celebrities complaining about the paparazzi when they rely on them to stay in the public eye could be seen as hypocritical. But when celebrities are told to just accept their nude photos being stolen because “you’ve been nude in movies” or “you can just use it to advance your career”, something is very wrong. It’s pretty simple, theft is still theft, no matter who the victim is, and this is a particularly personal theft. In the end it’s another aspect of the privacy debate that the 21st century is just going to keep throwing up.