Monkey See, Monkey Do Online

The celebrity iCloud hack: same old motivation, different medium

Feature by Natasha Bissett | 06 Oct 2014
  • Monkey See, Monkey Do Online

The internet has officially replicated what tabloid media has been doing for decades. The leak of female celebrities’ nude photos via 4-chan and Reddit is just the next step up from what the paparazzi and tabloid media do every day. The methods are different, but the underlying motivation is the same: money.

Open up any tabloid and there’s guaranteed to be photos of celebrities that weren’t posed on the red carpet. Standard fare includes celebrities going to dinner with family or friends, enjoying the sun and surf at the beach, going shopping, indulging in greasy take-away on a big night out, or slipping out of a nightclub with a mysterious paramour. Alongside the hastily-snapped shots is the inevitable commentary on their clothes, their hair, and their weight, as well as speculation about their relationships. Celebrities know how to play the game, too; there’s big money for exclusive photos of their intimate lives: their children, their homes, their weddings and family moments, their bodies.

There’s money in photos, and the more gossip-worthy, the better the pay-off. Many paparazzi resort to trespassing and spying to get the best pictures. So if we’re talking about the line between business and invasion of privacy, the hacking and selling of celebrity photos, whether professionally taken or on personal devices, seems a lot like business as usual. Instead of hiding in the rose bushes, they’re hacking your iCloud.

That the invasion has now moved online is exactly why this scandal makes people more uncomfortable than usual, if the rampant advice about securing your iCloud account is any indication. The discomfort with being vulnerable online is heightened when the most private detail of a person’s life – their nakedness – is at risk of being public property. But unlike the paparazzi skulking in the rose bushes, this was a systematic effort to hack celebrities’ online lives, and for many people that makes it analogous to someone breaking into your bedroom and rifling through your undies.

And they were doing it for the money. ‘OriginalGuy’, who leaked some of the photos from his “collection” on 4-chan in the hopes of getting $40,000 (about £25,000) for the whole lot, admitted it was a group effort over several months. The scandal revealed that there is a black market for celebrity nude photos in the “darknet” (secretive private networks), and just like art, the rarity and height of celebrity increases value. OriginalGuy was opportunistic in his realisation that money that could be made outside of the darknet, but another opportunist was not so clever. Not so savvy about his anonymity, Bryan Hamade was named and shamed online after revealing his PC network in a screenshot. He wanted to make a quick buck from selling the photos he gathered from 4-chan and Reddit, although he has denied allegations that he is a hacker.

The vigilante sleuthing and the outing of Hamade revealed his identity, businesses and affiliations, and then published them right when the world’s media would propagate the information. It proves that in the eyes of the web, privacy is a right only for those savvy enough to hide themselves online. Certainly, in this view, celebrities are not entitled to it, and the internet does not suffer fools like Hamade gladly.