Earlier this month, Christopher Chaney pleaded “not guilty” to hacking into numerous e-mail accounts belonging to celebrities like Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera, Vanessa Hudgens, and Scarlett Johansson (who’s nude picture eventually ended up on the Internet because of it).
The plea was, undoubtedly, strictly protocol.
After all, the 35-year-old Florida man, who has been indicted on 26 counts (including charges such as accessing protected computers and aggravated identity theft) and faces up to 121 years in prison has already spoken publicly about his crimes, apologizing to the celebrities via CNN.
What I find most interesting about Chaney’s apology is not that it exists, but that it includes a fairly insightful qualifier:
I know what I did was probably one of the worst invasions of privacy someone could experience.
I won’t debate the level of heinousness regarding the different kinds of privacy invasion. Whether someone physically pokes around in your home or electronically pokes around in your e-mail, you’re going to feel some level of invasion – perhaps fear, anger, and insecurity, too.
So, no matter how it happened, you can use these tips for coping with privacy invasion:
1. Gain some perspective and understanding (and possibly even future warning).
We tend to hear more about celebrity hacking than anything else, but as Psych Central’s Dr. John Grohol points out, it’s important to understand that privacy invasion can happen to anyone – both online and “in person.” That fact doesn’t make your experience any less awful, but it there is some comfort in knowing you weren’t the first, and probably won’t be the last.
As a matter of fact, some of the factors that make us most at risk for privacy invasion, according to Psych Central’s Christine Stapleton, aren’t all that glamorous: Divorce, custody battles, probate cases – they’re all reasons someone might snoop around.
Stapleton, who has 30 years of journalism experience under her belt and specializes in computer-assisted reporting, notes that everyday things we tend not to think twice about can act as ways for others to find out information about us:
Every parking ticket, court record, even your utility bills – if you are a customer of a public utility – are public. Your campaign contributions are online. Your voter registration is online – including which elections you did or did not vote in. Some states are more protective than others but it’s best to be prepared. You can control some information about yourself – such as Facebook. However, you cannot control public records, such as divorce files, that are not only public but increasingly becoming more available online.
So…does that mean to enjoy any level of privacy, we much become complete hermits? No, I think it simply means we need to be aware of what we put out there, and learn to become proactive about our privacy.
2. Take control and be proactive about your privacy.
There’s a sense of comfort in taking control, and taking control of your own privacy is no different.
You might decide to:
- Take legal action. Just make sure what the person has done is illegal, first; after all, if you put it on the Internet for the world to see, chances are it’s not a crime for someone to see it. Hacking your computer and discussing your Facebook pictures are two totally separate things.
- Arm yourself with online privacy resources. These resources can help you understand better how to protect your privacy as well as which actions you can take once that privacy has been invaded.
- Seriously weigh the pros and cons of convenience versus risk. For example, online banking and mobile banking are extremely convenient, but having someone hack into your bank account can result in a nightmare.
- Store extremely private documents and other items in bank safety deposit boxes.
- Opt not to save passwords in your phone or on your computer, and forgo using “master password” programs.
- Avoid cliche and easily guessed passwords and security question answers (like birthdays, anniversaries, and mothers’ maiden names) and, as Grohol suggests, consider periodically change your passwords.
- Close all e-mail and social media accounts you don’t regularly use (or use at all anymore).
- Take time to understand the privacy options (as well as terms and conditions) of each social media account you open, and set these options to those you’re comfortable with.
- Look for opt-outs. Stapleton points out that some situations allow you the option to “opt-out” of having your e-mail address and even phone number used for any other purposes.
- Think twice about what you post to sites like Facebook and Twitter. This includes everything from pictures to relationship status updates. As noted above, anything you make public will be public. Too, just because you delete something doesn’t mean it ever completely goes away.
- Invest in quality “anti” programs for your computer. Anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware – these can all help you keep your computer spy-free (as well as remove the programs that already infect your computer). Some of these programs are even equipped with tools that “scramble” your private photos and documents, so that no one accessing your computer, other than yourself, can see them.
As you can see, being proactive about your privacy can mean everything from dealing with passwords to studying up on privacy laws. Whichever steps you take, make sure they’re steps you’ve researched as thoroughly as possible.
3. Seek help.
Privacy invasion is a type of violation, and sometimes, dealing with feelings of violation can be tough. According to Grohol, it’s best if we allow those feelings to happen:
Some people go through something a little like the grief process, where it really throws them for a loop and they feel violated. That’s understandable, and you should allow yourself to feel those feelings.
So, how do we deal while we’re allowing ourselves to feel those feelings?
Naturally, it depends on you and your situation, but Stapleton suggests everything from beating a pillow to screaming along with Alanis Morissette (two things I can personally recommend, too!), as well as writing a letter to the person who violated you:
Often I don’t send these but it helps me to put it in writing. I formalize and organize my thoughts and make sure it’s just right. If you’re going to send it, it’s usually best to wait at least a few days and maybe let someone else read it. Also helps to print it out and burn it.
Of course, if – after some time has passed, or your situation is much too serious – these kinds of methods don’t work, you might consider support groups or professional therapy.
How about you, readers? Have any of YOU ever experienced privacy invasion? How did you deal with it? What worked for you, and what didn’t?
Special thanks to Dr. John Grohol and Christine Stapleton for providing their expert advice during the writing of this article!