Thursday, November 06, 2014

COLUMN: Privacy

I like to think of myself as somewhat of an armchair technophile. If there's a trendy new gadget or gizmo, I need to own it. Quite honestly, I've been avoiding Best Buy because I know I'll take one look at those new 4G televisions and suddenly life will be inadequate until I own one. But, as it turns out, I'm lagging. I thought I was on top of my technological game, but not so much. It's embarassing to admit in public, but I've clearly been neglecting an important and crucial element to modern cyberspace living. I guess I have to own up to my dark and shameful secret:

I'm 43 years old and I've yet to take even ONE naked selfie. I am SO behind the times.

If you're the kind of person who loves a spirited debate on the hotbutton topic of online privacy, you've been having a banner month. Usually I log onto Facebook every day and roll my eyes at my conservative uncle's vitriolic posts about his right to bear arms. Instead, THIS week I've been rolling my eyes at 26 or so of my friends arguing about actress Jennifer Lawrence's right to bare arms... and bare breasts and bare butt, as it turns out.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The fun really started about a month ago when Facebook launched a new chat app for mobile devices called Facebook Messenger. Within days of its arrival, a viral post swept through cyberspace warning users that by accepting the terms and conditions of this new app, you were giving Facebook open access to your phone's camera, photo gallery, microphone, and more. Within days, a rallying cry to delete the app was everywhere on the internet.

Except it was a big load of hooey. Well, kind of.

Yes, Facebook Messenger DOES access all of those elements of your phone. But it needs to. If you use Messenger to send a photo to a friend, it needs to access your camera. If you want to talk to a friend on Messenger, it needs access to your microphone. It's no different than any other app that performs similar functions.

But I get it -- blindly agreeing to fine print can be scary. I don't know one person who's ever read the ominous iTunes terms and conditions. For all I know, Apple might now own my soul. But do you really think Facebook wants to eavesdrop on your conversation? Something tells me Mark Zuckerberg has $25.3 billion other things to worry about besides that pic of what you had for dinner last night. If Facebook wants nefarious access to a half dozen pictures of my cats and a grainy video I shot at the Green Day concert two years ago, fine by me. I don't care about my online privacy because I try not to do anything too private online.

And that brings us to this week. Unless you're a cave-dweller (and clearly a cave without wi-fi,) you've probably heard that a hacker broke into the online accounts of a number of female celebrities, gained access to their digital photos, and released a treasure trove of their private home nudie pics unto the world.

Do I feel bad for these celebs? Sure. Their privacy was invaded by a cyber peeping-tom and I hope the little dweeb who did it gets busted. But at the same time, I have to listen to logic. And logic tells me one important fact: If you don't want naked photos of yourself leaked to the internet, then maybe you shouldn't have taken naked photos in the first place. But apparantly you can't say that, especially not if you're a guy -- because then you immediately get accused by your feminist friends of slut-shaming and they tell you it's a person's right to take pervy pictures of themselves if they so choose. I don't disagree. I'm not here to lay blame; I'm simply here to be astonished.

Last week, the Huffington Post ran an opinion piece called, "Nude Photo Leaks Are The New Slut-Shaming." Let me quote this article: "At some point, we all have to admit out loud what we all already know: that probably 85% of women have taken some kind of 'scandalous' photo of themselves and sent it to a guy. Or girl." EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT?!

If that's the case, I have DEFINITELY not been getting the right party invites. Is this figure even remotely accurate? Have I been living in some rose-colored Pleasantville while 85% of the world's been getting freaky-deaky? Do I and everyone I've ever dated fall into the world's most boring fifteen percent? Most horrifying of all, is there really an 85% chance that nudie pics of my own mother could be floating around somewhere? Clearly, I'm never sleeping again.

All I know is that I'd probably be more sympathetic towards the efforts of the Huffington Post if they hadn't run their article called "Jennifer Lawrence's Leaked Photos Remind Us How Awful The Internet Can Be For Women" precisely TWO stories away from a photo spread of bikini-clad movie stars entitled, "Celebrities Emerging From Water, Because Hey... It's Labor Day!"  

In all of my days, I have been sent ONE 'scandalous' photo from a girlfriend. It was shocking and funny and cute and sexy -- for about 5 seconds. Then it was awkward and embarassing and my only instinct was to immediately delete it before anyone on Earth ever saw it again. I lose my car keys on a daily basis; imagine what would happen if I were to lose a naked pic of my girlfriend. I don't want THAT kind of responsibility, thanks. Meanwhile, If I ever tried to take a scandalous selfie, I'd just end up with a blurry mess from laughing so hard at the sorry state of my naked form. I take bad enough photos with clothes ON, people.

For me, the real headline of the day should be something like, "Maybe Taking Naked Pictures Of Yourself Isn't The Best Idea After All, Especially If You're The Star of The Hunger Games." But hey, I guess I'm just an old behind-the-times fuddy-duddy living in a modern world where everyone now trades naughty selfies like handshakes. As for me, I'll be off in the corner somewhere, uploading pictures of my cats and my dinner to the most boring 15% of the world.

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