The hacking of female celebrities’ private photos and the gleeful sharing of the photos online are criminal and downright perverse. It’s prurient interest gone wild. But for all the considerable indignity Jennifer Lawrence and others have suffered, the episode points to a more troubling truth about our times: that between governments and their spy agencies, the constant data-mining of our personal information by social media companies and the perpetual risk of digital identity theft by hackers, our personal lives have never been under greater siege. You can feel sorry for the intrusion the celebrities have suffered, or you can cynically say, “Tough luck, that’s what you get for being famous.” But what you really ought to be thinking is, “How do I keep this from happening to me?”
Because it can. Smartphones, digital photography and social media are ubiquitous, yet to a large degree people are unaware of just how much they risk by putting even basic personal information online – let alone recording every aspect of their lives on smartphones that are backed up to vulnerable cloud servers. The fact that the most common stolen passwords, according to one security software manufacturer, are “123456” and “password” is fairly convincing evidence that many people just don’t get it.
Even those wary enough to manage their passwords intelligently probably haven’t quite digested the fact that hackers are looking 24/7 for weaknesses in the vaults of supposedly secure data – everything from credit card info to medical records to regrettable selfies that can be exploited for monetary gain, or merely for the sadistic pleasure of embarrassing someone.
When it’s not criminals going at it, it’s social media giants like Facebook and Google analyzing your photos, tracking your whereabouts and looking at your posts in order to find the most efficient way to sell you to an advertiser. Your smartphone knows where you are and everywhere you’ve been. You may be tracked by security cameras. Your data and metadata could be of interest to the National Security Agency in the U.S. and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) in this country.
This is our Faustian bargain with the digital age. The Internet and new communications technologies have improved our lives in so many ways. But they have also taken our lives and recorded them in ways we are not always aware of, and might not always want. We can and do demand that governments and corporations take the proper measures to protect us. But no longer can anyone assume, or possibly even expect, to be spared from some kind of breach. Be careful out there.
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