This was originally posted to benscomputer.no-ip.org, you can see it in the archive
I've been meaning to write an article on this subject since it was published. This, technically, is the second article I've written on the subject, but due to a disagreement with my text editor over whether the 'save' button should save the file or cause a seg fault, the earlier article never reached the point of publishing.
For those lacking the time or the inclination to read the linked article, I'll briefly explain the content before looking into the implications.
Readers may recall the pictures of Alix Bromley that went viral. Until her identity was revealed, she was known simply as 'Epic Boobs Girl'. Photos she had posted to her Bebo account were discovered and reposted all over the Internet, catapulting Miss Bromley to an unwanted fame.
The pictures were first discovered in December 2006 and featured Miss Bromley and her friends. Some of the pictures showed one friend touching and kissing Miss Bromleys breasts although all participants did remain fully clothed.
In February 2010, Loaded Magazine published a feature showing the pictures, stating that she had 'the best breasts on the block'. The article also offered a bounty of five hundred pounds to any reader able to convince Miss Bromley to participate in an exclusive photoshoot for Loaded.
Miss Bromley, who has recently turned 18, filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Comission (PCC) claiming that Loaded Magaine had invaded her privacy by publishing the feature.
Her complaint, however, was not upheld. The PCC decided that the images had been freely available for quite some time, additionally the magazine had not retrieved the published images from Miss Bromley's Bebo account.
The PCC did note that Miss Bromley was fifteen in the images and said that this rendered the feature distasteful. Matters of taste did not fall under the PCC's remit, however.
Implications of the findings
The Implications of the decision are relatively clear. As far as the PCC is concerned, if an image is widely distributed, then a newspaper/magazine is free to publish it without worrying about allegations of privacy invasion. That is, so long as the images are sourced from somewhere other than their original published location.
Of course, the ruling does not take into account the potential implications for the press under copyright law. That, however, is not unexpected - The PCC has no legal power to make such a decision, it is a regulatory body manned and funded by the very people it regulates. It is not, as some believe, a court or legal body.
Regardless of this, the implications for users are clear, even if not all of them are news to everyone.
- If you post an image publicly, it can be re-used by the press no matter how embarassing or private it may be
- Users need to think carefully, and take responsibility for anything they post
- Content posted online never goes away, and can haunt you indefinitely
It's fairly well established that Miss Bromley did not intend for the images to become public knowledge. Unfortunately for her, due to her own naivety, they went viral.
Is it fair that at fifteen years old, Miss Bromley was splashed across the internet purely on the basis that she was/is well endowed? Is it reasonable that she should be burdened with the knowledge that men and women of all ages were lusting after her chest? A reasonable person would probably agree that it's not, but these are the consequences of her actions.
If nothing else, this case may serve to remind people that the internet is not a warm, safe place. This case is the thin end of a dangerous wedge, the same naivety and ignorance that lead Miss Bromley to posting the image has lead others to meet people they don't know without taking any sensible precautions.
Targets of their own making
Unfortunately, it is often teenagers that are hurt by this naivety and ignorance. We all remember being young and thinking we were invincible. Most of us came to no harm, but it's a different world that we live in today. Arpanet is available to a vast number of people, and there's no filter to keep the riff-raff away! Sadly the very naivety and arrogance that puts puts teenagers at risk, will also try and prevent them from heeding this advice. After all, when you're invincible and know everything, what use is safety advice?
As futile as it may seem to keep trying to drum the message home, it is the only thing that will work. Organisations such as CEOP, whilst well intentioned, are not a panacea. Indeed, some of their policies, such as the controversial 'Panic Button' may well do more harm than good. To give an example;
By conceeding and displaying the button, Facebook would risk instilling a false sense of security into users. Where these users are parents, they may not monitor or educate their children quite as well as they might otherwise. The end result being that despite the presence of the button, the children are left more at risk.
In conclusion, users (whether adult or not) need to think very carefully about what they make available online. Regularly check and review your privacy settings on any social networking sites you may use (Facebook, Bebo, MySpace etc).
If you are a parent, persevere with educating your child about the dangers, do not rely on an outside organisation such as CEOP or the IWF to do it for you. If you do not take responsibility, when your child gets an opportunity to unwittingly leak personal information/photos (and they inevitably will!) the newspaper headlines may be referring to them. At that point, you may wish to consider yourself lucky if it's simply a personal photo that has gone viral.
Recent court cases have also set new precedents relating to users liability for the content they publish online. I will be examining this in an upcoming article very soon!