After a bad breakup, a scorned lover may choose to channel their anger through ice cream, a good cry, or the public humiliation of the one that broke their heart. And in the blossoming age of mobile—with smartphones and tablets providing easy access to photos and videos, revenge among significant others has become more popular and creative than ever. The most recent preferred method for those with a “revengenda” is commonly known as “revenge porn.” This is an umbrella term used to describe explicit content (usually a picture or video) of an ex-lover shared virally over social media, blogs or other web channels—and is now punishable by jail time and a hefty fine.
The phenomenon has become increasingly present with the increased use of mobile devices. While it can be easy for couples in love to exchange flirty pictures and videos across the Internet, the same can backfire when love turns sour. According to our 2013 Love, Relationships, and Technology survey, 50% of people have shared personal or intimate images and/or videos with loved ones or friends. Additionally, 28% have regretted (once they broke up) sending such content and 32% have asked their ex-partner to delete the personal images.
Oftentimes pictures and videos are shared on mobile devices without thought to what could happen if someone other than the intended recipient gained access. For instance, images or video sent via text message or shared on social media apps may be deleted by the sender, but should anyone receiving the image download it to their own device, that content lives on. All it takes is a quick screen shot to make an image far more permanent than the sender may have hoped, especially when love sours. The study also found that 1 in 10 people have been threatened by their ex that their risqué images would be posted online and nearly 60% of these threats were carried out. Furthermore, there are websites specifically aimed at helping angry exes to expose pictures and videos of their former lovers. Some of these websites will even charge the victims of the scandalous postings upwards of $250 to have pictures of themselves, that were posted without consent, taken down.
Thankfully, this alarming crisis has come to the attention of policymakers and the general public. Recently, California passed Senate Bill 255, which makes this a punishable offense. Posting “identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without permission with the intent to cause emotional distress or humiliation” is a misdemeanor carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But these are not the only steps being taken against such virtual crimes. Victims of such revenge content have also come together to form advocacy and support groups. One of the larger of these organizations, End Revenge Porn, was started by victim Dr. Holly Jacobs, and aims to provide emotional support and resources to victims, implement laws that criminalize and raise awareness about the prevalence of the activity.
Even though progress is being made, you should always use the utmost caution when sharing images and videos across mobile devices, intimate or not. You never know what small piece of misplaced imagery could affect your job, your family, and your personal reputation. For example, in the case of California’s new law, which makes it a misdemeanor for someone to distribute sexually explicit photos or videos to cause others humiliation or distress, “selfies” (the explosive fad of taking pictures or videos of oneself), redistributors who share recordings done by others, and hackers who try to gain access to mobile device data—are not covered under the new law. Furthermore, it could also be difficult for prosecutors to prove intent to cause emotional distress. And, the law is already being protested by the American Civil Liberties Union due to its potential to violate free speech rights, which could prevent it from being replicated across the country.
In order to make sure you as a mobile device user are protecting your most private data—images included, there are certain steps you can take to guard your reputation on and offline:
- Stop and assess before you share. Take a step back and consider what you’re about to share digitally. It’s virtual permanent ink—even when deleted, information shared online or between two devices is never really gone. Ask yourself, is it something you’d want to see exposed to the public, to your employer, or your grandmother. If no, then don’t share. There is no way to guarantee that the information you share in secret with one person will remain as such once shared to another device.
- Keep mobile and social media accounts private. Explicit or not─keep a better handle on your shared images by carefully selecting who can see them. Social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook have privacy settings so that you can choose who views your images. And with SnapChat and Kik messenger’s Capture feature you only share with the people you choose.
- Don’t drink and tweet. When under the influence, decision-making can often go out the door. What you do while inebriated could end up a meme on Instagram or passed around on SnapChat the next day. Be aware and keep your mobile habits in check.
- Make use of basic security features on your device. It may seem intuitive, but there are still many users who fail to lock their phone or tablet with a PIN or passcode. This is especially helpful to protect any information you do not want seen should your device be lost or stolen.
- Research the apps you choose to use. One of the biggest problems of mobile apps such as SnapChat is that users don’t fully understand the limitations of their privacy while using them. Look into the apps you are downloading and read through the agreements to see what information is being shared across devices, and how secure your data is when being sent through the app. Even while images sent through SnapChat may only have a temporary lifetime, the receiver could take a screenshot causing the image to live on much longer than expected.
- Limit where you store passwords. Having an app remember your password for next time leaves information on that app exposed should someone else get access to your device. Try not to set up apps to remember passwords unless you have third-party password protection set up. With McAfee® Mobile Security, you can password protect your social apps so even if someone gets access to your mobile device, they can’t use it to post unwanted pictures online.
- Avoid connecting to free and public Wi-Fi. Public Internet connections, while convenient for mobile users, can leave you at the mercy of cybercriminals who can use these unsecure connections to gain access to your personal data.
- Give your mobile device complete protection from hackers and scorned lovers alike. Even in the case of images simply stored on your mobile device (not shared), you could be at risk from prying eyes and someone who knows how to get into your phone. With McAfee Mobile Security you can have added assurance that your photos are protected on and offline while stored on your phone or tablet. It also allows you to safely surf the web, scan your mobile device for viruses, alert you on apps potentially carrying malware, as well as remotely locate, lock and wipe your mobile device in the case of theft or loss.
Even though it may seem like you’re not partaking in risky mobile behavior, you could be more vulnerable than you think. Keep all your devices safe, and learn more about mobile security by following @McAfeeConsumer on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.