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September 9, 2014

5 naked celebrity photo repercussions

Or how one hacker caused chaos throughout the internet.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Every so often the media happens upon something so groundbreaking that the internet quakes as a result. The leaking of naked celebrity pictures has prompted a frenzied response centred around questions of privacy, security and the lofty subject of freedom of speech.

With these three topics placed into a media centrifuge, the repercussions were always likely to be spectacular. Here’s the most important of them.

1. Celebrities lay down the law

As news of the pictures surged across the internet a number of celebrities took to their agents or Twitter to vent their anger. Jennifer Lawrence and Mary Winstead soon confirmed the authenticity of the images, and some celebrities threatened to prosecute those who were spreading them.

"This is a flagrant violation of privacy," said Lawrence’s publicist Liz Mahoney. "The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence." This sounded like empty rhetoric, merely serving to highlight the ease with which crimes of this sort can be committed online, but it wasn’t long before the police arrived.

2. The FBI launch an investigation

Shortly after the news broke the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) decided it needed to investigate. In a statement from the California branch in Los Angeles, it said: "The FBI is aware of the allegations concerning computer intrusions and the unlawful release of material involving high-profile individuals and is addressing the matter."

It added that further comment would be "inappropriate", and has remained silent since. However the bureau does have a track record of success in cases like this, having been able to secure a conviction against the hacker Christopher Chaney who stole personal photos from the actress Scarlett Johansson and singer Christina Aguilera.

3. Apple CEO Tim Cook claims it wasn’t his firm’s fault

A few days after the initial coverage Apple finally ended its silence in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The firm’s chief executive Tim Cook denied that lax security on iCloud was to blame for what had happened, instead claiming that hackers had used phishing scams or answered security questions in order to access the accounts.

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As a result of the hack Apple updated its alert users to suspicious activity on their accounts, having quietly rolled out protection against brute force attacks in which hackers keep attempting to log in until they have guessed the correct password. Cook said that the firm had to address security awareness of its users, adding: "I think we have a responsibility to ratchet that up."

4. 4chan alters its copyright policy

The image board 4chan has become famous among internet aficionados the chaos that stems from a lack of moderation. Yet after its role as the original home of the leaked material the site’s administrators decided they had to act, implementing a Digital Millennium Copyright Policy (DMCA) after years of resistance.

The speed at which content expires on the site may make the policy redundant, but the move towards respectability is part of a growing movement by the more wayward elements of the net. As time goes on we may well see the so-called "ungoverned spaces" on the internet diminish in stature, or at least retreat to the safety of the Deep Web.

5. Reddit defends free speech, and then relents

The link aggregator Reddit was highlighted as one of the main distributors of the images, with an independent subsection on the site being set up for that explicit purpose under the name "The Fappening", a play on American slang for masturbation. Surging traffic prompted the site admins to break the subsection to keep the rest of the site afloat, mixed in with concerns over the frontpage.

Later information that some images depicted minors, as well as a flood of copyright notices, finally prompted the site to ban the Fappening. Unfortunately a blog post released around the same time seemed to uphold the site’s often contested line in favour of free speech, causing much aggravation in the user comments.

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