Celebrity Nude Photos Reveal the Insecurity of the Internet

Zan McPherson

Illustration by Hernandez
Illustration by Hernandez

In September of 2014, the largest celebrity hacking scandal in history made its way to the forefront of pop culture news. Unidentified hackers illegally obtained naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Rihanna, and others, in an event which illuminates the modern world’s desperate need for higher and more defined internet regulation. The leak has stirred up more than a few angry grumblings from both celebrities and the general public.

According to The Guardian‘s website, the hackers are believed to have gathered the photos from Apple’s iCloud, the company’s predominant networking storage unit that is able to transfer information through multiple servers. The Guardian also claims that the hackers obtained the celebrities’ photos by “chaining”––once they accessed one person’s account, they used the contact information in that account to access others. This is what allowed for such a large number of photos to be released all at once.

After the photos leaked, they were posted onto an anonymous image board website called 4chan. Of course, once they were out of the cloud and into the juvenile, loose-lipped community of the image-based internet, the nude photos spread like wildfire.

Much of the blame for the incident, however, has not gone to 4chan or even to Apple. According to Wired Magazine, data breach lawsuits are often dismissed because “the United States … has no overarching law dictating the security of a technology company.” Plus, those privacy policies that no one actually reads often disavow all liability, so companies cannot be blamed for scandals such as these.

While Apple and 4chan got off scot-free, Google, a company that wasn’t even involved in the hacking event, faces a $100 million lawsuit. Filed by the celebrities targeted by the leak, the suit argues that Google’s slow response to the hack prolonged the plaintiffs’ exploitation and victimization.Martin Singer, a top entertainment lawyer on the case, claims that while other small websites took the photos down within hours of their release, Google turned a blind eye.

While Google does deserve some blame for not acting expediently toward the removal of the photos, the public seems to have forgotten about the role of Apple and 4chan. While it should be Google’s goal to maintain an ethical internet void of female victimization, it is not the company’s job to eradicate images they weren’t responsible for. Furthermore, the images became as permanent as anything else that gets onto the internet, so preventing all search engine access to them would have been next to impossible.

Apple, on the other hand, still doesn’t have a clear picture of how hackers bypassed its security. Though it can’t be possibleto prevent all hackers from breaching iCloud, there must at least be some incentive for internet companies to prevent these situations. If companied like Apple can’t be sued due to privacy policies and inadequate federal laws, they have no reason to develop stronger security.

4chan, as well, is immune from the type of lawsuit targeting Google. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law passed in 1996 to aid websites based on user-generated content, protects social websites like Craigslist and Reddit from getting sued for images like those leaked.

Though internet users should have the freedom to share what they want to, naked images of celebrities should not be spread to all corners of the world. Companies should be required by law to confine certain risky material to their websites.

Similarly, a “check here and click next” message shoved in the face does not tell the user what they are getting into. Federal law, therefore, must also require liability and privacy policies to become understandable to the average viewer. Controlling this seemingly unmentioned issue, along with confining certain material within websites, can make the internet safer while still allowing for freedom.

Freedom and responsibility of the user persists as a key feature of the internet, but legal lines must be drawn in order to also keep the internet ethical and safe. Apple, Google, 4chan, and the government must realize that personal, disgusting, widespread invasion of privacy calls for legal intervention. The most recent nude photo scandal just reinforces the urgent need of more defined laws in relation to the worldwide internet.