Online celebrity leaked pictures. An ongoing debate about security and privacy in the Digital era.

On: September 11, 2014
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About Giovanna Salazar Ojeda
Giovanna is currently a graduate student of the Research Masters in Media Studies, specialization in New Media and Digital Culture, at the University of Amsterdam. Her fields of interest range from political communication, to ICT for development, new media phenomenon and human rights.


cloud Last day of August ended with startling news. On Sunday 31, a hacker leaked naked celebrity pictures online. He apparently breached the cloud storage and cloud computing service from Apple, iCloud, thanks to a supposedly security vulnerability in the “Find my iPhone” app. This gave him access to more than 100 personal photos of female celebrities, which then he decided to post on the 4chan website for anyone to see and even download.

As expected, the news broke all over the internet. On the one hand, nude and otherwise photographs of A-list Hollywood celebrities were just a click away from anyone; while on the other hand, both online privacy and security vulnerability arose as concerning issues.

In terms of security, several questions need to be made, for starters, how safe is our information online? Apple currently describes iCloud as a device that: “It’s easy to set up and use. And with features that give you peace of mind […]”, so we as users should be able to assume that the company has taken the necessary previsions in order to protect our data, right? But what happens when the personal information we might have uploaded ends up in hands of entities to whom we did not explicitly consent (either persons, companies, institutions and/or governments)? Is it enough that, once its proven that companies did not guarantee enough safety, they are fined/punished? I mean, the damage is basically done when information that we did not mean to publicly share, is in fact circulating online.

It is worth noting that, although until now it has not been proven that Apple’s iCloud or Find my iPhone systems were breached, or that they even were the source of the leak, the fact is that an online security system (either Apple’s or any other) was compromised, which led to the disclosure of intimate information that was not meant to be public in any way. Of course, technical solutions will rapidly be implemented by the company(ies) involved in order to regain consumers’ trust, but ultimately it seems that we can never have fully guarantees that any security system will be impenetrable (just as we are reminded in this other MOM post: Hacking the Digital: Fingerprint Secured Touch ID from Apple). In the light of this, the question we need to ask ourselves before storing information on the cloud, let alone sharing information online, is if the risk is worth taking.

Now, in terms of privacy, in this digital era a lot of information that was not meant to be shared is now of public domain. Nevertheless, unauthorized access to any source of information should not be tolerated. In the particular example of the celebrities pictures that were leaked, we are talking about very intimate information that was accessed by computer intrusions, therefore it is a crime that should be prosecuted. Even though the divisions between the private and public spheres become somewhat blurry on the internet, it is still very important to be able to recognize flagrant violations of privacy rights. Far too often we hear that “if you don’t want people to know something, keep it off the internet”, which kind of implies that as soon as you upload something (doesn’t matter if you store it on your cloud computing personal account, under two different passwords) it automatically becomes information that could potentially be accessed. Is this the kind of online mediated world we want to live in, where we do not get to enjoy some kind of boundaries in terms of the access that third parties have to our information? I certainly hope not.

This “leaked celebrity pictures” episode is just another example that reminds us that security and privacy online are subjects that still need to be evaluated, reconsidered and addressed. A great start point could be that operators explained us thoroughly the advantages and disadvantages of the security systems we have installed in our devices and apps so we understand the risks we are taking. Despite the fact that the risks will be hard to estimate, at least the choice of uploading our information will be left to us, the owners (?), in order to protect our privacy.

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