The VICE Channels

    Your Ex Is the Greatest Threat to Your Online Privacy

    Written by

    Kelly Bourdet

    With all the stories of Chinese hackers and unnavigable Facebook privacy settings in the news, people are rightly concerned about the security of their private information. But a new study conducted by McAfee anti-virus software–a brand that became famous during the 1992 Michelangelo computer virus scare, but has currently been in the news for the shenanigans of its long-departed bath salts-smoking founder--reveals that the greatest threat to your personal information is actually your significant other.

    According to the study, 36 percent of Americans plan to send a romantic or sexy picture to their partner this Valentine’s over text, email, or social media. Despite the ample evidence that current partners almost inevitably become ex-partners, and ex-partners aren’t always the best guardians of our sensitive information, we continue to send scintillating texts and pictures with the naïve trust that we won’t be exposed. Incredibly, this study found that about half of the people polled shared their passwords with their partners, which seems insane. Revealing their passwords opened them up to having personal info and personal pictures discovered and exposed by partners and ex-partners. McAfee compiled the rest of the results in a handy, very pink infographic.

    Here at Future Sex I’ve covered stories on the consequence of  partners hacking into phones and email accounts and and I’ve also written a handy guide to sexting responsibly, if that’s what you’re wont to do. And although we’ve got to take McAfee’s study with a grain of salt, it’s essential truth – that men and women idealize both their partners and relationships in totally unrealistic ways, then flippantly provide other humans with theoretically permanent, inherently sharable records of intimacy – is worth contemplating. With the lover’s holiday just around the corner, will the possible repercussions of sexting hold anyone back from doing it? I doubt it. 

    Entire empires, notably IsAnybodyUp, have been built on idea that, given the platform, there are people who want to shame their exes publicly. Though women are pushing back -- a recent class-action lawsuit attempts to hold a revenge porn site responsible for providing this sort of platform – the legality of these sorts of enterprises has not yet been successfully disputed. The potential for anyone’s private photos to be broadcast is certainly real. In the above sex and tech survey, approximately ten percent of people had been threatened with the exposure of sensitive materials by an ex-partner. The most common reasons people for sought this type of retribution were “lying,” “cheating,” and “breaking up with me.” So if you think there’s even a possibility you might ever break up with you current partner, and you don't want to be naked on the internet, then it’s probably best to resist the urge to share a picture of your naked body with someone.

    Ownership of digital communication is not well established. You may “own” the copyright to any image you take, but this justification is essentially worthless when it comes to preventing an unwanted image from making the internet rounds. We’ve not yet established a way to hold anyone responsible for the damage that results from publication of these types of images, and it’s an amorphous damage difficult to calculate.

    Since the threat of exposure isn’t stopping us from sharing risqué images, and sites that host revenge pornography continue to proliferate, it seems the ultimate result will be the reduction of shame around nudity. It seems unlikely that there will be, in the near future, a way to control the spread of unwanted images on the internet. What can legitimately ruin someone’s career today can’t possible retain the same level of injury as it becomes more and more common. Maybe the future is a place where a topless image of a woman on the internet becomes almost commonplace. In some ways, I think this is an encouraging future.

    There are two distinct reasons that revenge porn is so disturbing. First, it's because of the betrayal of trust; no one wants their ex to lash out at them in this way. But perhaps more importantly, it is the threat of exposure and the consequences to our reputation that we fear. Maybe the most helpful move we can make regarding ex-partners sharing intimate stuff isn't to warn men and women everywhere not to sext – this won’t work – but instead to not get so worked up about the image of a naked man or woman. So send a sexy picture if you want to, just realize you might be seeing it again somewhere unexpected.