The recent scare over the alleged Snapchat photo leaks has only served to highlight an alarming trend of breaches in the online privacy of millions of individuals across the globe. The nternet, with all its numerous benefits, reaches an ever growing number of people every day; it is estimated the percentage of Internet users in the world jumped from 0.4 per cent in 1995 to 40 per cent of the world’s population this year. Therefore, a staggering amount of communication is taking place on the Internet, leading to unimaginable amounts of information being created and stored online.
At this point, we live parallel lives online with everything – from photographs from an ill-advised night out to important bank details – jostling for space on an overcrowded, ever-expanding platform. This naturally raises questions about privacy and security in a fairly unguarded terrain.
The recent leaks of Snapchat photographs was brought about by the help of a third party website called Snapsaved.com that saves Snapchat shots, going against the core philosophy of Snapchat. Hackers got through the website’s security systems and released pictures connected to about 20,000 accounts. While the damage was minimal – most of the pictures were everyday and banal, with only a sprinkling of nudes – this ‘Snappening’, as many are calling it, just goes to show the vulnerability of our online lives. Snapchat is built around the idea that the information that you send through it will only exist for mere seconds. The very fact that third party apps can circumvent Snapchat’s security with ease and in turn leave themselves exposed to hackers is something that needs to be addressed urgently.
In yet another scandalous reveal, the UK’s intelligence and information gathering agency GCHQ has apparently been developing a bundle of software programs that allow them to influence online traffic and information. For example, one of the programs, ‘Spring Bishop’, allows the user to find private photographs on Facebook. That a legitimate government agency can have programs such as these in its arsenal raises very potent questions with relation to the European Convention of Human Rights. After the leak, GCHQ did issue a statement saying that it worked under “strict legal and policy frameworks”.
This does not mean that our online lives are continuously at risk and that we only have an illusion of control on the information we choose to share about ourselves. After an EU ruling that gave people the ‘right to be forgotten’, Google has created an online form through which can ask for links to information about you to be deleted off the Internet. Each form would go on to be evaluated on personal merit by an ‘expert panel’ set up by Google. While this is a step in the right direction by the Internet giant, it is not nearly enough to stem the leaks of unwanted information on the Internet.
The recent hacking of numerous celebrity iCloud accounts and subsequent release of celebrity nudes has only gone on to drive home the point that the Internet is the new equalizer. No-one, including the rich and the powerful, is safe when it comes to online privacy. In fact, celebrities are more at risk because information and/or photographs leaked about them carry far more titillation value. No matter how many lawsuits are filed, once something is on the Internet, it always remain there.
All we can do is to keep ourselves as informed as possible and disseminate personal information on the Internet wisely. At the National Data and Privacy conference in Calgary this week, young junior high teens were given a lesson in online privacy by older high school students. With the increasing prevalence of technology and Internet in our lives perhaps it is best if we start educating children from an early age about the basics of online privacy.
However, as Steve Rambam, an expert specializing in Internet privacy cases, famously said, “Privacy is dead – get over it.” In the present climate of information scams and photograph leaks, one is inclined to agree with him.