In a recent debate, fuelled by the media frenzy surrounding the leaked nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Scarlett Johansson, a friend and I were attempting to determine the main crime that is at issue. We surmised the crime was ultimately theft resulting in a plethora of other issues that such privacy invasions thrust to the surface.
Yet, this sort of attack, which happens so often and at an alarmingly more frequent rate today, forces one to wonder just what it is we have the power over concealing anymore? In other words, images, statements, personal information and the like, are these truly in our possession when it’s all filtered through the online ether of the digital world, floating freely in a seemingly stable, individually sectioned ‘cloud’ that encompasses cyber space? And the internet is no longer a singular entity, it has commandeered phones, computers, tablets, iPads, and more; every device we use to keep the once physically distinct things like calendars, contacts, communication, cameras, even calculators, in order. Let’s face it, the digital gods are not only omnipresent and omniscient, but most importantly and most frighteningly, they are omnipotent and their incomprehensible powers have trickled down into the hands of people with the capabilities to exploit their functions, more often than not for no good. Thus I return to the original question: some of our most personal, most precious possessions, are they really ours?
Take for example the digital turnover of payment and monetary mechanisms, most notably, online banking. We have a user name, a password, and a right to the relative content, indeed. But we once again see here an issue of representation, a screen standing in for the supposed amount or objects designated to it. What in itself does this representation mean? I’d say it’s reasonable to think that money isn’t money until it’s physically in your hand or exchanged for a product, service, or given to a cause. As well, said ‘money’ exists in an immense pool amongst many others that could be cleaned out by the same sort of people who have the decency to hack into iCloud accounts. So, in relation to the idea that our possessions are meant to be easily accessed and protected but reciprocally made increasingly available by mechanisms much larger than us, perhaps it’s the pure convenience and entitlement online management mechanisms create that have given way to a much larger problem of humanity. A problem that can be reduced to “what’s yours is mine, so long as I can access it,” a problem that Jennifer, Kate, Scarlett and many others are dealing with right now.
Corporations like Apple infectiously peddle palpable entitlement with every bit of their promotional material. For example, the website’s introduction to iCloud itself states:
“Everywhere. Automatically. That’s the way it should be, and iCloud makes it a reality.”
With over 320 million active users as of 2013, that’s a whole lot of stuff, in a whole lot of places, potentially available to a whole lot of people. So the reality iCloud creates is one in which we store so much of ourselves in a repository of ‘personal’ access that it establishes a false sense of security and transparent privacy, not to mention the fact that the majority of users don’t fully understand its actual capacity.
Further, such liberal access to personal information is often granted on our own accord through uninformed, hasty acceptance of multiple “I agree” boxes encountered on a daily basis. Most online users disregard this information and instead enter into a false sense of privacy created by corporations. This has created the conditions where people of ill will not only have the aptitude but also the audacity to exploit others be it through hacking, social media, or the Internet generally. A recent article in the Guardian, discussing the celeb nude photo leak, describes the issue as
“the spread of ethical compunction across the basest, most sexually commodifying and amoral of all human inventions, the Internet.”
In other words, the Internet has been, in a sense, granted immunity to causing greater moral, ethical, and controversial issues due to our misuse, or abuse, of it.
Therefore, given the proliferation of supposed scandals, breaches of privacy, and enormous amounts of theft through hacking—that are often due to technologies intended to make life easier but, in actuality, making precious information increasingly vulnerable on an international scale—I arrive at my final question: can we really be that surprised? With intricate technologies that thrive on ignorance, well, how can we be surprised?
It is simultaneously a technological and human problem as our tech-progression proceeds so far and so quickly that our morality and basic awareness simply can’t keep up with it. We must be wary of the access we provide and the claims of security we endorse in order to keep what’s ours ours. We need to stop acting so dumbfounded and simply exercise caution because the issue essentially is, when you invent the technology you invent the downfall. Even the Gandalfs and Dumbledores of places like Apple and Google cannot anticipate the potentially devastating downfalls they create.