Another day, another story about nude photos of celebrities being hacked and posted online. I won’t mention the names of the celebrities in this most recent round, because it really doesn’t matter… and I really don’t want to accidentally show up in web searches of people looking for the photos.
What is interesting about this story, however, is that it appears that the photos were hacked from iCloud — Apple’s data storage service in use by every iPhone, iPad, and iPod on the planet.
I could post some technical mumbo-jumbo about encryption, and file security, and how networks work, and steps you can take to attempt to keep your private data private. But I won’t waste your time. There’s actually an easy way that I guarantee will prevent naked photos and videos of you showing up online to embarrass you:
Don’t take nude photos/videos of yourself, and don’t allow them to be taken.
Notice I didn’t say don’t upload them, or don’t share them, or don’t text them. I said don’t ever let them be taken. It’s really that simple.
Yes, I realize you’re young, and you’re feeling a lot of pressure to impress or please your current or prospective bf/gf/whatever.
Or maybe you’re just having fun and don’t think it’s a big deal, and you’re certain that there’s no way these photos could ever see the the light of day.
Or maybe you deleted them, and once something’s deleted from an electronic device, it’s gone forever, right?
Please read this next part carefully:
You need to accept the reality that any photo or video…
on any type of device…
that has the ability to connect to any type of cellular, WiFi, or wired network…
or than can plug in with a cable to any type of device on any type of network…
is being stored somewhere, accessible to others, and could be made public.
You don’t need to share, post, text, tweet, upload, download, transfer, or sync a photo to make it accessible to a network or archived on a remote server. You don’t even have to press “record” on the device or press the “take photo” button in an app. If you simply point your camera at anything, whatever it sees can be stored, transferred, and saved somewhere that you can’t control.
I assure you it’s not science fiction. It’s not paranoia. It’s simply just how electronics and networks work. It doesn’t matter how strong your password is, what type of encryption they are using, or what types of super-awesome technology is trying to protect it.
There is no such thing as privacy in the current digital age.
The sooner you can accept that, the safer you’ll be.
Let’s Play “Questions and Answers”
Allow me to guess at the type of questions you might ask about this topic:
“But my device can’t take a photo or video unless I press the button.”
That’s incorrect. It really, really can. You may not know about it. You may not see anything in your saved photos or videos. The reality is that you are carrying around a device with a microphone, camera, network device, and GPS transmitter. Any of those features could be activated at any time, with or without your knowledge or permission. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is either lying, or doesn’t understand the technology.
“But Snapchat deletes my photos 10 seconds after I send them, right?”
No, Snapchat (or any app like it) makes it so you or your friends can’t see them with the Snapchat app 10 seconds after you send it. But if the file existed anywhere on Snapchat’s network or servers, it’s still archived somewhere.
“But I’ve turned off photo sharing in my device, so it won’t upload my photos or videos anywhere.”
That doesn’t change the fact that you have a device with a camera, microphone, GPS, and a network that belongs to someone else. Nothing stops the owner(s) of those networks from doing whatever they want, or allowing government agencies from doing whatever they want, or hackers from making the device work in a way that’s different from your settings. Those settings are just buttons on a screen. The device still has the capability to send files to a network.
“But my private photos are hosted with Google/Apple/Microsoft/Instagram/Facebook, and those are big companies you can trust.”
I could answer this question for days, but the bottom line will simply be “there’s no such thing as perfect security. Someone can always access them. Always.” Also, keep in mind that if you’re a “customer” using a “product” that you’re not paying for, you’re not actually the customer. You’re the product.
“But I’ve turned on the privacy setting on Instagram/Picassa/Photo Stream/etc.”
Again, that setting is just an image of a button on a screen somewhere. Maybe your friends can’t see it. But if it’s archived online anywhere, even with the settings set to private, the owners of the networks and systems, or anyone who hacks those networks or systems, can access it. This has been proven time and time again.
“But I deleted it.”
No, you didn’t. You simply removed your access to it. Operate under the reality that nothing digital is ever deleted. Ever.
“No, seriously. I deleted it.”
No, seriously. You didn’t.
“But I don’t care if photos of me get leaked. I’m nobody important.”
You may not care now, but there’s no way of knowing what your future holds. Maybe you or your future spouse decides to run for office. Maybe you or someone in your family becomes famous — or infamous. Maybe you’re involved in a legal proceeding, and someone wants to discredit you. You’re not nobody. You’re you — and you never know who or what you could become.
Let me sum up by saying, once again, the only way to be certain that embarrassing photos or videos of you don’t show up online is never to take them. Your phone is not safe. Your digital camera is not safe. Devices get stolen all the time — but in today’s world, you don’t even need physical access to a device to steal what’s on it.
Please just accept the following as truth:
- No device is secure
- No network is secure
- Any device that can access any network or plug into any device on a network can be accessed by companies or hackers
- The second you take a digital photo or video, it’s saved somewhere… and it might not be where you expect or want
- You don’t have to press a button for a photo or video to be taken — your phone can “see” anywhere you point it
- Nothing digital is ever deleted
- Even if “they” say it’s private or deleted, it’s not private or deleted
- Even if you delete it yourself, it’s not deleted
- Even if it really is deleted, it’s not really deleted
- Seriously. It. Is. Not. Deleted.
- Device settings mean nothing
- Software settings mean nothing
- Privacy settings mean nothing
- You can’t trust any person or company to be able to keep your data safe
- Don’t ever take photos or videos that you’d be embarrassed to have emailed to your parents
Does this opinion make me paranoid? No. I have too much first-hand knowledge to know it’s not paranoia.
Does it make me a prude? Maybe. But I don’t care. I’m a computer/network geek and a dad. I have a vested interest in this information being shared with my kids, your kids, their friends, and their friends’ friends.
My Kid Would Never Do That
Maybe you’re right. I also believe that about my kids. But that’s not going to stop me from posting a link to this article on their Facebook walls and tweeting it at them. And if you’re not “friends” and “followers” of your kids’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Google+ and every other social network they access, you need to fix that right now.
Even though I truly believe my kids (and maybe your kids) are smart enough to never allow or take compromising photos or videos of themselves, maybe one of their friends will see it, or their friends’ friends, or maybe even beyond that. Public opinions like this don’t tend to go viral in the same way that nude photos of celebrities do. Maybe posting/tweeting it at my kids will embarrass them. I don’t care. I love them, and sometimes love is embarrassing to teenagers. They’ll get over it.
But I guarantee what will be harder to get over is the embarrassment and emotional trauma that could come from public exposure of something they hoped would remain private.
But there simply is no privacy in the current digital age. Please accept that truth, and stop trying to convince yourself of any other version of that truth.
Please share this post wherever you feel it might be appropriate.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback below.