September 2, 2014

Trying to Retain Privacy in a Not-So-Private World.

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As I write this, at least 101 well-known female celebrities have had their iCloud accounts hacked and private, nude photos of themselves leaked online.

While some have denied various images that purport to show them, others like actresses Jennifer Lawrence and  Mary Elizabeth Winstead have confirmed that their respective photos are indeed real.

Speaking via Twitter on Sunday, Winstead claimed that the photos posted of her “were deleted long ago, [and] can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

Indeed, it’s hard not feel some level of sympathy for Winstead and the other celebrities who have been hacked. Even those who have never taken or had a nude photo taken of themselves should feel a little worried, as it is possible that up to 24 million Apple users may be at risk for having their personal information hacked.

That includes me and scores of other everyday people as well.

As I pondered that possibility, other questions entered my head—not the least of which is whether or not privacy even exists in this day and age.

Granted, many of us knowingly give up some of our privacy whenever we chose to venture online or sign up for social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. Given that I write and share quite a bit about my life in my writing, I could argue that I have given up more than privacy than most people I know. With that said, I like to think the parts of my life that I choose to keep private will remain that way.

However in today’s world, that isn’t always a given.

Already there are quite a few people asking why anyone, much less a public figure, would take such photos in the first place, much less save them in something like iCloud where they know they could be hacked.

While they have a point, it really isn’t the question we should be asking.

We all know there is a chance we can be hacked. Even before the days of widespread internet usage and smartphones, we all knew there was a chance our private paper diaries, letters and photographs could be read or stolen, but few expected it would ever happen to them. Likewise, in the electronic world of endless passwords, security codes and firewalls, many of us feel that the chances of us ever being a victim is slim to nil—until of course, it happens.

I vividly remember the first time I ever had my email account hacked. I felt so violated that some stranger based somewhere in Africa had had access to my private emails. Even worse, the hacker had deleted every message I ever kept, including ones from over a decade ago from a friend of mine who had died. While the email provider was able to restore my deleted emails and I was profoundly grateful, I ultimately felt more than a bit unnerved that they could do that.

Company rules aside, employees are only human. Is there anyone who can honestly say they wouldn’t be tempted to look from time to time even, if only out of boredom, especially if they had access to a public figure’s information or even an ex’s?

While some may argue that no one has to be online or own a smartphone, the truth is that it isn’t realistic for most people who live in the modern world. Ask anyone who is interested in starting a business, or just interested in keeping up an existing one, and they will say those things just aren’t important—they are essential.

Most of us are going to have an electronic footprint whether we want to or not, and even deleting things doesn’t make them disappear forever.

So what’s a modern person to do?

Unfortunately, there is no simple (or even complex) formula to follow to make sure that we are never victims. But, a friend of mine who is a computer professional offered some good tips, including the following:

1. Don’t use “password” as a password.

2. Your birthday, your kids’ or husband’s birthday and your anniversary are all also very bad choices. They are the most common.

3. Use complex passwords. Use two-factor authentication (two-step verification for iCloud) whenever possible.

4. Always keep a local backup.

5. Use iTunes for iPhones. For Android, connect the phone to your computer and manually copy the pics and files to your computer (just like from a floppy disk or CD).

While these are excellent tips, the best one that I can think of comes from my late grandmother who died just before the rise of social media and smartphones:

Don’t tell anyone anything you never want repeated.

If I were adapting this rule for this situation, I would say don’t ever post or take pictures of anything you absolutely never want leaked on any device that can be hacked.

For instance, as someone who journals, I have never taken to doing so online or even on my computer. Instead, I prefer the old-fashion paper kind. Not only are they far less likely to get stolen, but I also reason it’s far easier to destroy them by tossing them in the shredder or fireplace than to erase electronic files.

In any case, even with those things in place, I acknowledge that I am still not immune from ever being a victim of hacking or having my privacy invaded.

When all else fails, I think back to one final tip from my grandmother who said this when we lived near the ocean: when you absolutely have to get something out, write it in the sand and then stand by the shore until the water washes it away.

Alas, that may be the only fool-proof way to ever keep anything we put out there from getting out there to the entire world.





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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: HG Italia/Flickr



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