There has been a lot of (appropriate) righteous indignation about the hacking that effected celebs like Jennifer Lawrence this last week. But is there a more sinister danger just waiting to be unleashed? And if there is, who will be to blame?
I have long believed that everyone ought to stop assuming their digital content will be private. I certainly don’t. I also have never used Apple’s cloud system – I shut it off on my iPad as soon as it was offered. I don’t like my OS auto-updated, and I don’t like the idea that whatever I put on that device might automatically be uploaded somewhere without my express decision. I wasn’t even considering the hacking potential. I just didn’t want photos I took to accidentally end up on Facebook automatically. Not because they are of me naked or something, but because I like to control my flow of data.
But there is a more fundamental issue with all of our new content tech: companies like Apple, specifically, and more generally Google and Facebook and others, think that they know better what we want than we do ourselves. In an effort to make things easier, they automatically do things in a way that individuals don’t understand. All in the name of “making things seamless and easy”.
Well, companies: stop it.
It’s like how we assume that everyone knows how to drive well, so they can simply get a license for any vehicle and get to drive at whatever speed. It’s ridiculous, because so many people who drive don’t really pay attention and in the process create issues for everyone.
In the same way, it’s simply assumed that people can’t be bothered to learn anything about technology, so we don’t even make them learn. I think that’s wrong.
It’s time to stop making more and more changes at such a speed that even the most interested of us (me, for example) can’t keep up with the changes. Companies need to let tech sit with us for a while, and make updates and upgrades optional or compatible with previous versions, like they used to. There was a reason that was done in the past: people’s complaints about software used to matter. But in the last few years, companies have decided they no longer care, and are trying harder and harder to just make changes, forcing new features before users understand the previous ones, and before the previous ones even work properly.
The web and mobile are partly to blame, as are marketers and Wall St. These environments and groups demand faster and faster change just to keep a status quo. And more importantly, just to show a company can make money.
I suspect not long from now there will be a half-baked change that won’t just expose celebrities’ nudes – there will be something that will have real consequences, like start a war, or kill someone because of faulty security or understanding. The closest we’ve come are stories of GPS guiding people into a river. Of course, we deride those people because clearly, there’s a river right there, open your eyes.
But how long before there is a real consequence from this relentless obfuscation of function?
Not long, if this idea of the “internet of things” takes hold, I suspect. In fact, I predict the first real “death by app” will occur from some misfunction of a Nest, or connected lightbulb, or internet connected car, or other automated product.
This release of photos from the cloud is, then, the canary in the coal mine. Yes, it is a crime and unfortunate for the victims, and perhaps one or more of them may experience loss of work. It may even cause one female celeb effected to try and take her own life as a result of the embarrassment or the reactions of the public, or from the reaction of someone in her professional life. And that will be tragic, and should be taken seriously.
What I’m suggesting, though, is that the faulty process used by companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and more, once connected to physical products in our lives, may actually directly cause not just one person, but many people’s, demise.
And that’s something to be really scared of.
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.