THE BLOG

To Be or Not to Be Private: That Is the Question

05/09/2014 12:26 BST | Updated 04/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In the Oxford English Dictionary the word private is defined in several ways: 'kept or removed from public view or knowledge, not within the cognizance of people generally, activities that involve personal matters or relationships.'

Clearly and unsurprisingly, there is a common theme among the various definitions of private. That for something to be private in whatever context means for that thing to be restricted to a person/an audience/viewing/knowledge etc.

Why then does it appear these definitions are continuously being used, abused, bent and manipulated?

Last week yet another celebrity or rather celebrities joined the extensive list of others who have had private photos thrust into the limelight without consent of the owner.

An anonymous user from the website 4chan uploaded nude images and videos of more than 100 famous actors, singers and celebrities. Despite the post being removed rapidly the photos went viral, including nude photos of the actress Jennifer Lawrence. Amongst the photos was a list including a further 60 names of celebrities who have allegedly been hacked and who the hacker claims to have photos of. Names included; Rihanna, Kirsten Dunst, Avril Lavigne and Kim Kardashian.

Now, whether or not this is true will remain to be seen. But (and here lies my first question) - do we really want to see these photos? Do we really care?

For me, the answer is simply no. I have absolutely no interest in seeing photos that are clearly not for me. Just the other week, I came across a photo of a friend that had some how got on to my laptop (seriously - it is a complete mystery as to how it got there). I won't go into detail of what the photo was but it was very evident it was not for my eyes but for someone else's. I became very flustered and embarrassed. I deleted the photo and emptied my trash can. The photo was no more.

My point here is that this photo was private. As are the hundreds of images that the 'collector' (not hacker as this anonymous user stated) posted online. I felt extremely uncomfortable having seen a photo I shouldn't have.

I have not seen any of the photos 'leaked' last week. And for as long as I can help it, I won't. To seek out and view these photos virtually invades Jennifer Lawrence's or whoever's personal space. It fuels the major breach of privacy these celebrities have experienced, the misogyny and the scrutiny of their bodies and behaviour. What these people do in private, in their own homes or with their partner has nothing to do with us. Who are we to judge?

Going back to definitions I outlined at the beginning, one could argue against me. To be a celebrity, one cannot be 'kept or removed from public view or knowledge'. Perhaps the very word 'celebrity' is the antithesis of private. If we go by that idea, us, the public, has a right to view those photos in current circulation...right?

The celebrities mentioned above are no strangers to photo shoots, magazine spreads or paparazzi. I feel very little shame in seeing these photos: they are meant to be viewed by thousands of eyes. Crucially, the celebrity knows this. But there is a vital difference between a photo meant for the public and a photo meant for an individual.

The photos that have allegedly been obtained have claimed to be taken from Apple's 'iCloud'. Again, one could say 'well if you're stupid enough to put an indecent photo of yourself somewhere in the realm of the worldwide web, you should expect it to be stolen.' We might as well say then anyone who uses online banking or shops online should expect their details to be stolen.

This leads me on to my second question: is anything private anymore?

Take Facebook for example. It has access to everything we store on there; photos, email address, mobile numbers, videos, twitter accounts. That includes the information we choose to 'hide' from others, Facebook still has access to it. Facebook is by no means alone. Our search engines forever store our google searches and website hits. Did you really believe it was a coincidence yesterday's search for Nike trainers is appearing in advertising space on other websites the following day?

The issue of privacy has been a hot topic of debate ever since whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed the true extent of US government surveillance. The technology we have today enables the idea of privacy via technology (through phone calls, texts, social media, emails, online chat rooms etc) to cease to exist. Maybe the only thing that can be truly private today is the old fashioned face-to-face conversation.

While by no means am I condoning the theft of nude photos or naming those involved 'irresponsible and stupid' for having those photos in the first instance - given the extent of surveillance, storing of metadata and hacking technology that we know occurs daily, is it not unsurprising such a thing has happened?

Regardless, excluding in the interest of national security some may argue, it does not give the right for the hacker to openly expose the hacked. Particularly if the information obtained is harmless and/or meaningless to the vast majority, just like the nude photos stolen recently.

Even if, like myself, you really don't care about seeing these celebrities naked, I believe you should care about how the material is collected. The violation of privacy should not be tolerated, whether you are a celebrity or a member of the public.

Or look at it from a different perspective: Would you be comfortable having a photo of yourself in your birthday suit circulating the internet for the world to see? I certainly wouldn't.