If you don’t want to be hacked, don’t own a computer

Emma Travis and Hesham Mashhour 8 September 2014

It’s pretty obvious that, by now, everyone with an internet connection has heard about the Great Celebrity Nude Leak of 2014. That’s how the majority of news outlets seem to be framing the story at least. A number of mostly female celebrities, Jennifer Lawrence prominent among them, have been victims of anonymous hackers who posted the privately taken photos of the celebrities online for the whole world to see.

It’s also obvious that the headline ‘Leak’ doesn’t quite cover the events of last week.  But, then again, what word could possibly be used to describe the completely illegal act of breaking into a secure storage area to take – and then publicise – someone’s personal images on the internet? Oh, yeah: ‘theft’.

Most people are wise enough to be baffled by the concept that the hackers’ actions could be viewed as anything other than utterly reprehensible. But if you’ve read the comments on news articles and posts on twitter and Facebook, it’s highly likely that you spent a considerable amount of time last week beating your forehead repeatedly on your desk at the sheer ridiculousness of humanity.

Comments try to claim that ‘digital theft isn’t stealing, because the owner doesn’t lose anything’. Of course – that’s why downloading copyrighted music and films is… wait…not legal? Damn. Bang goes that line of argument, then. And then there’s the fact that said media was originally created for the purpose of public consumption. The theft of intimate, personal photos unintended for others’ eyes is simply not comparable. It’s more than just illegal – it violates a person’s privacy, their autonomy over their own sexuality. The celebrities involved have lost something, and it’s something with much more than simply material worth: the right to their own bodies.

Overwhelmingly, though, comments echo the sentiments of Ricky Gervais’s (hastily deleted) tweet: ‘Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of you on your computer’. This is a worrying mindset and it’s not only celebrities that are on the receiving end of it. Although government ministers claim to be open to discussing its criminalisation this autumn, ‘revenge porn’ is an ever-rising trend, and with every victim comes the inevitable judgement – ‘if you don’t want your nudes shared, don’t take any!

Purdue University recently found that 46% of young adults have taken nude or semi-nude photos. Cosmo’s surveys meanwhile puts the figure at 89%. Having naked snaps on your smartphone is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. So why are these statements such a knee-jerk reaction? Well, because it means that if we use what is termed by many as ‘common sense’, we’re safe. In the words of Melissa Harris-Perry, “Psychologists have found that people become cognitively frustrated when presented with stories of victims who suffer through little fault of their own. They can deal with this frustration in two ways: they can conclude that the world is an unjust place, or they can decide that the victim is somehow to blame.” In other words, don’t take nudes, and you’re away and laughing, free from the terrors of 4chan hackers and vengeful exes.

Except… are you? Plenty of people have pointed out the fallacy of the argument in the face of the fact that hacking clearly constitutes theft (‘if you don’t want your things stolen, don’t own things!’). What fewer people seem to be talking about is that you don’t have to have taken nudes to become a victim of data hacking. Bank details are nearly always stored online, for example as are passwords or guilty secrets like collections of explicit Harry Potter fanfiction (oops).

The truth is that stealing is stealing. You’re not safe from hackers just because you refrain from snapping a few topless pictures. If we put the blame on JLaw for daring to bare, we ignore the fact that she and her fellow celebrities have been the victims of a crime that could just as easily happen to any of us.

So, guys, take this advice: if you don’t want anything stolen from your computer, don’t put anything on there. Better still, don’t own one.