Despite security flaws, legal failures: How to fight revenge porn

Despite security flaws, legal failures: How to fight revenge porn

Summary: The celebrity stolen nudes debacle has everyone talking about failed protections and victims. Violet Blue thinks it's time to talk about fighting back.

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TOPICS: Privacy, Legal, Security
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fight revenge porn

The celebrity stolen nudes scandal has shined an uncomfortable light on everything from cloud security to sexual privacy. Now there's finally a very public conversation happening about how hard it is for women to fight online attacks such as this.

I think it's time to talk about fighting back.

It has never been more clear that when our intimate photos are shared without our consent, we're failed by every system we need to be able to trust.

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Wake up: The celebrity nudes hack is everyone's problem

Wake up: The celebrity nudes hack is everyone's problem

The celebrity nudes 'hacking' scandal is a wake up call about security and human nature.

We're failed by companies which haven't implemented adequate security practices; Snapchat ignored a huge, known security problem that ended with all of their users' information exposed. With the celeb photos this week, Apple admitted the private image thefts didn't happen by someone breaking in -- but by someone basically walking through a door.

It's the hallmark of a tech industry that celebrates corporate greed above user safety, all rush-delivered to the public in a Pandora's Box of bad security practices. We're seeing exactly how certain companies care more about protecting their shareholder's perceptions than protecting their users.

Our utilities, social media sites, apps, and all their privacy settings have a baseline of "normal" that doesn't take into consideration that half of the users are dealing with being targeted, and all the ugly experiences that can come with it.

Sadly, this road has been traveled for years by many other women -- but their experiences can give us a battle plan.

Nuke it from orbit

The first order of business is to find all the websites, social media accounts and forums your private images and videos are on. You'll need to find all the images and/or videos, and send the website and/or its host a takedown request.

Get the images taken down. I've detailed more on how to tailor your own method in this online privacy book for women.

The main thing to know about getting private photos and videos of you removed from a website or taken out of the public eye is that you probably can, there are most likely less of them out there than you think, and that this whole awful experience will pass like a bad storm.

Next, make detailed records of everything you find: screencaps, date and time, screen names, download all the photos you find (they have hidden data on them) and save it in an evidence folder. Set up a Google name alert to catch any new attacks.

Stand your ground

It feels tempting to run and hide, but don't delete your own social media accounts or "quit the internet."

Getting things off sites and out of search is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. One thing pops up, you deal with it, and then another thing pops up again and you have to deal with that. It’s annoying, tiring, and can make you feel worn down.

Online systems are broken when it comes to attacks on female targets.

But you’ll notice that it goes in waves, and each time the waves get less and less, until eventually they fade away. You can make them fade away faster by increasing your online presence.

A primary step in how to deal with "revenge porn" is that you should not delete your social media accounts; you should make as much content (that's not about the attacks) as possible. This will start to drown out the search results you want to eliminate.

If you remove your social media accounts, your blog or blog posts, or your normal online presence, it will allow the bad content to gradually take the place of any good search results you had going in the first place. Consider paying a reputation service to help you reduce the work.

It’s okay if you need to change your account settings to private for a while, or close comments on posts and photos – it might be good to do that anyway so you don’t have the extra stress. Either way, this is when you have to stand your ground.

Showing the world online who you really are – with dignity – is part of how you’ll fight fire with fire.

Celebrities can afford lawyers

A lot of women don’t end up being able to use the legal system for many reasons. It’s extremely expensive, it draws more attention to you, it’s incredibly brutal for your emotional state, it will reveal your identity more than it’s already being violated, and in many cases, the legal system can’t do that much to help you.

The deck is also stacked against you in court if your attacker is broke; you won’t be able to get damages from someone if they have no money. It’s all incredibly unfair.

However, you can accomplish some things with the legal system. In addition to awarding monetary damages (again, if possible), courts can provide injunctive relief, or court orders, that can require your attacker to stop doing something.

Depending on the laws you’re dealing with, you might be able to get a court order to require the attacker to stop posting images or videos, or take down images that have already been posted.

If you’re thinking about legal paths to justice for yourself, there are a few – but to get one question out of the way, no, you probably can’t successfully sue a website where someone else has posted photos of you.

That’s because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites from legal liability for most content uploaded by their users.

Some women have tried to sue websites, and they’ve all lost, with the exception being one case where a Yahoo representative said the company would take something down and then broke that promise. 

The laws around the publication of intimate and private photos online without the subject’s consent are a mess. They are different from country to country, from state to state in the U.S., and things are different between civil, criminal and Federal laws and results.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but there are websites to help you navigate what you can and can’t do such as Without My Consent and End Revenge Porn.

Make sure you talk to at least two to three lawyers before making a decision about how to move forward. Choose one who doesn’t make you feel bad, ashamed, or like any of this is your fault.

If you’re in the U.S., ask your lawyer about the different causes of action you might consider pursuing, including Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence, Stalking, Breach of Contract, and Invasion of Privacy claims.

File a police report to put the harassment "on the record" -- but as many women have experienced personally, don't expect the police to do anything.

You can get a civil restraining order whether or not you have a lawyer, though a lawyer will make the process easier. Even if you can’t afford a lawyer, you should try to get a restraining order if one is called for.

If the court does not grant your request for a restraining order, and this happens often with online harassment cases, it will document that you’re having serious problems with someone harassing you.

If you need to build a bigger case later, that paper trail will be critical. Because court proceedings are public records, it’ll also put a dent in the reputation of your attacker.

However, as I mentioned, online systems are broken when it comes to attacks on female targets: the court didn't grant my request for a restraining order against a Wikipedia editor who threatened me in a personal email (later publishing my address on Wikipedia) -- and to this day the stalker is proud of that fact, making sure what he saw as a validation to continue his harassment stays on the Wikipedia page about me to this day.

This kind of institutional sickness is a reminder that the failures here aren't ours.

When the storm is raging, don’t get emotional online, don’t blame yourself, and do take steps to strengthen your mental and emotional health in real life -- by eating, sleeping and seeking support from friends, those who care about you, or even a skilled therapist.

Without My Consent (withoutmyconsent.org) tells us what we can do to deal with these feelings:

Taking active, practical steps to address the problem can help. Consulting with an attorney or law enforcement officers is important if someone has threatened you. It’s also important to see what practical and legal steps you can take to combat the invasion of your privacy.

Although a formal complaint process may increase your feelings of stress while it is ongoing, this kind of active coping with the situation helps some people feel better more quickly.

Addressing your feelings is important, too. Talking to people who care about you can help, as can talking to a counselor or therapist. Joining a support group may also comfort you and allow you to feel safer. Keeping a journal where you put your feelings into words also works for some people.

Doing things every day – especially small things – that make you feel good (for example, exercise, experiencing natural beauty, gardening), are important, as is finding a way to relax. Many people also find religious or spiritual practices help them cope with these kinds of painful experiences. Try not to rely on drugs, alcohol, or caffeine, as these substances can make things worse.

Notes and disclosure: More information is in my book The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy, as well as further guidance and resources for surviving extreme privacy violations such as the ones discussed in this article. I am also an Advisor for Without My Consent, a non-profit organization that helps women who are victims of revenge porn find support and legal paths to justice.

Topics: Privacy, Legal, Security

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26 comments
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  • Someone needs to tell her ...

    ... her 15 minutes is up.

    I don't know if her much-needed book is as paranoid as her articles, but either way, does it need all these advertorials?

    Fighting back is just fine - but an often missed first step is "common sense", which would have prevented 90%+ of these breeches of privacy.

    You can only play the victim card so often before you have to carry your stick of chalk whenever you go out.Just in case.
    Heenan73
    • It just seems like "common sense" to you

      The vast majority of people out there do not regularly, or even irregularly, read articles at ZDNet and other tech web sites. Their computers and operating systems are neither hobbies nor religious idols.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • There's no such thing as bad publicity

      Or so I keep hearing. The 15 minutes never ends, and even football games don't last as long.
      HypnoToad72
    • Heenan73, someone needs to tell you

      ...that your argument is invalid.
      Violet_Blue
      • Common Sense?

        Quite right Violet. It should be obvious to anyone these days that "common sense" is most certainly not common. And as such Heenah73's argument falls on its face.
        ichoose
  • You've forgotten one very important point

    If you didn't take the picture, you don't own the image.

    YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO REQUEST IT TAKEN DOWN.

    "It has never been more clear that when our intimate photos are shared without our consent, we're failed by every system we need to be able to trust."

    Yes, you've been failed by the idiots you knowingly given the pictures, with the obviously false belief that you can trusty them.

    I'm sorry, and you can call it victim blaming, but it you take/allow to be taken nude images, and knowingly give them away, then you can't shift the blame elsewhere.

    And the sad part is, this whole thing is is very analogous to the "on a computer" patent issues. The only reason this is news is because nude photos were taken and stored "on a computer." There is no difference between what happened recently and photo store clerks making extra personal copies of risque photos.

    Please note, that I'm not at disagreeing that all men and women have the right to do what they want with their bodies and pictures of their bodies. What I am stating is that all men and women need to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Oh, and revenge porn? If it's never proper to use intimate pictures as revenge, then it's never proper to use intimate pictures of politicians against them, either. No double standards here, please, anyone who posts intimate pictures without consent must be prosecuted. Anthony Weiner, text away!
    aep528
    • Depends

      it depends where you live. Here, nobody can release a photo with me in it (unless I am not a part of the photo E.g I happen to be walking past a building in public as you take the photo), without my express permission. If I haven't given permission, I can request it be taken down.
      wright_is
  • DOH!

    Here's a radical concept. How about not taking naked pictures of yourself with a digital device?

    Try exercising some personal responsibility for a change.
    rag@...
    • personal responsibility also means

      Thieves don't take
      Companies do proper security and upkeep
      Companies don't gouge customers


      Personal responsibility is for all. Even if companies aren't people too.
      HypnoToad72
      • The key word there is "also"

        Not "instead." It's not an either/or situation.

        In most cases, we have no control over what thieves or corporations do. We DO have the power to control our own actions, and we need to use it, while at the same time exerting any influence we do have to see that others are held accountable for their actions as well.
        Ginevra
        • Mostly, I agree.

          However, bad guys thrive until the light shines on them. People gets mugged, cars get stolen, on-line identities get hacked and used, etc. Each of these incidents are "preventable". And, each of these incidents creates a victim. It's important that these victims report the crime. Otherwise, the bad guys continue, uninterrupted. They will always find another victim because that is what they do.

          I'm 100% supportive of instructions that help victims recover (and avoid repeating their mistake).
          SlimSam
    • Duh

      This is the MODERN age of progressive society - nobody believes in the outdated concept of personal responsibility. It is always the fault of someone else, you are the victim. It used to be that Darwinism ruled - you do something STUPID, you have to live with consequences - but no more. Society will wipe your rear end for you and console you when it hurts.
      HackerJ
  • porn-proofing

    One surefire way of making sure that there is no way that genuine compromising pictures of you can be used for revenge porn is to not pose for any such pictures. If the pictures exist, the only safe assumption is that they will, sooner or later, escape to the wild. Data wants to be free, and if it's not a scumbag ex-boyfriend, it'll be a scumbag black-hat hacker who sets it free.
    rocket ride
    • You are being an idiot.

      She may not have had any choice...
      jessepollard
  • Accountability

    The subject says it all, but I will elaborate for the uneducated. You are accountable for what you do, what you allow to be done to you, and the consequences of those actions.

    If you don't understand how something works, don't use it. If you don't want someone to see a dirty picture of you, don't take it. If you don't want to be the star of your own porn video, don't make one. Cloud storage isn't that hard to figure out.

    And, if you think you understand all of what I just said, make sure you find an intelligent friend to check your facts with. Hopefully they will talk you out of doing something stupid .....
    I_h8_cats
  • Blame the victim?

    The overriding response to this article has been to blame the victim. Either for being too stupid or naïve to understand how this technology is used.

    This is just plain wrong. Period.

    Get a grip people - someone BROKE into the private accounts of people and stole their property. Have a little sympathy for the victims.

    How about some real discussion about the consequences the perpetrators of this stuff should face?
    Jim Swarr
    • Not a victim ... a sheep

      There are a limited number of instances when a person is truly a victim. Violent crimes involving force and/or weapons immediately come to mind.

      The stolen pictures are of people who allowed themselves to be victimized. I wouldn't hand someone a gun and expect them to be proficient without a little training, yet people buy cell phones with the power of a personal computer and don't understand that what they are doing on their phone can be monitored and don't know what precautions to take to prevent that. I would never send an email with sensitive information through GMail or Apple.
      I_h8_cats
    • Taking Responsibility

      Jim, you are partly right. If I leave my front door unlocked and open and a thief wanders in and steals my stuff, it is still the theif who has done wrong and should be punished. But my insurance company will still take me to task for making it easier for him/her.

      And that is before we even get to the question of making and keeping self-pornos.
      ichoose
    • It takes 2 to tango

      I agree, we need to do something about these types of hacks. Companies offering cloud services should have a duty of care to make them safe.

      On the other hand, if you remember the rule 'if you don't want something made public, don't put it on the Internet. Obviously, if you have let somebody else film you having sex or take naked pictures of you, it is hard to keep control over those images anyway - although in some countries it would be a criminal offense to publish those images without your permission.

      I find the whole thing hard to understand. I've never taken naked pictures of myself and I've never taken or had naked pictures of any girlfriend. None would have ever agreed to making a sex video. Let alone uploading such photos or videos onto a cloud platofrm! This has nothing to do with being a prude, saunas etc. here have a no bathing suit rule and I've been to nudist beaches a few times, TV shows naked men and women at prime time in documentaries etc.
      wright_is
      • In some Islamic countries it would be a criminal offense

        to publish those images period. Consensual or not.
        Rabid Howler Monkey