What do Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, disgraced former NBA owner Donald Sterling and your average do-it-yourself handyman have in common?
Content they all believed was personal has been compromised.
No one likely felt too sorry for Sterling this spring when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver imposed a hefty fine and a lifetime ban and said Sterling would be forced to sell the L.A. Clippers following racist comments he made during a recorded phone call that wound up on TMZ.
At a press conference announcing the punishment, a reporter asked Silver, “Should someone lose their team for remarks shared in private? Is this a slippery slope?”
His response now seems eerily prescient and not at all limited to Sterling: “Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they are now public.”
Unlike Sterling, who in the past has settled racial discrimination lawsuits related to his real estate business and allegedly made derogatory remarks about black employees, celebrities whose private photos were posted or Home Depot shoppers looking for a new shovel have done nothing wrong. But it’s not fair to blame companies where the data was breached, said David Barton, an expert on IT security.
“It’s not that these companies are being negligent,” said Barton, who is managing director with Atlanta consulting firm UHY Advisors. “It’s that the bad guys are getting much better at accessing information, whether it’s credit card information or naked pictures of celebrities.”
Home Depot on Wednesday updated customers on a possible payment data breach it is investigating, saying that if the company discovers wrongdoing, customers will not be responsible for fraudulent charges. Meanwhile, both the FBI and Apple have said they’re investigating after someone hacked into online accounts and posted naked photos of various celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence.
“This is a flagrant violation of privacy,” Lawrence’s publicist Liz Mahoney said in a statement. “The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”
Comedian Ricky Gervais dared to suggest on Twitter, “Celebrities, make it harder for people to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” He removed the post after a torrent of outrage saying he was blaming the victims of the hack, but he later retweeted someone else’s droll post on the topic: “Thank heavens someone hacked those actors’ accounts; I had heard the Internet was about to run out of photos of naked women.”
Some metro area parents have found the topic a teachable moment.
“We talked about how once you put it out there, even if it’s just on your phone, it is never gone,” said Nancy Anderson, an east Cobb mother of two. “Privacy as we used to know it does not exist anymore. There is no such thing as ‘delete.’”
Natalie Rutledge of Acworth has had similar conversations with her two kids.
“If you don’t do it in the first place, there is nothing to leak or share,” she said. “Whether it is pictures, posts or texts, it never goes away.”
Barton said sensitive information stored via cloud computing is indeed vulnerable.
“I don’t really understand the whole public confidence in the cloud architecture. It’s a misunderstanding,” he said, adding that there’s one really foolproof way of keeping boudoir photos from reaching a global audience. “If you don’t want naked pictures distributed, don’t take naked pictures.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this article.