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Sex and technology seem to go together like steak and potatoes. Many people – some of whom you might not expect – have taken to to using smartphones as a part of their sex life, leading to a rise in amateur photos and film. These shots are supposed to be private, of course, sent only to lovers for their eyes only, but they often prove more permanent than they relationships that inspired them. And when a lover is hurt, revenge often follows. Here’s what you can – and can’t – do to protect your most private moments.

Revenge Porn Is Business

Using private, amateur pornography as a tool for revenge or blackmail is hardly a new idea; the concept’s as old as the camera. In 1980, for example, Hustler published reader-submitted photos of women and – surprise, surprise! – it turned out some were submitted without permission.

Yet the prevalence of smartphones packing cameras has made it so common that it’s become a constant addendum to the latest headline news.  The guy whose kid died in a hot car? He was sexting. The senator jockeying to be the mayor of New York, New York? He was sexting. High school students? They’re sexting, too.

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Amateur photos have become a literal commodity.  For example, Isanyoneup.com (which went by the slogan “Pure Evil”), published nude photos sent in by, well, just about anyone. The site then offered to take them down, but only for a fee, which netted the site’s owner Hunter Moore over ten thousand dollars a month. The site was eventually taken down amid a drama saga far too insane to detail here, and Moore was arrested by the FBI earlier this year, but revenge porn distribution has simply moved to other anonymous sources, such as Tor.

In short, the threat of revenge porn is very real.

No one knows exactly how many nude amateur photos and videos are sent each day, month or year, but an FBI study found that at least 20% of teens had sent at least one nude or semi-nude photo. Adults above the age of consent no doubt send them even more often. If you have sent, or have received, a nude photo, you’re in the company of world leaders, generals and movie stars – and you’re also a potential target.

Could It Happen To Me?

Of course it could.

Sending a nude photo or video via smartphone text, email or cloud account is perhaps the most severe voluntary breach of privacy you could commit. It’s arguably worse than taking a Polaroid, sticking it in an envelope, and sending it to a hundred random people in the mail. At least those photos will one day degrade, can be permanently destroyed, take modest effort to copy and aren’t necessarily associated with your private information.

Digital photo and video, on the other hand, can be endlessly copied within seconds – and once that happens there’s no hope of stopping it. Worse still, the receiver is likely to have your phone number or email, and they’re likely have your social media contacts and address as well. If the relationship turns sour they have not just the means to humiliate you but also the information they need to help others do the same.

All of this may seem scary, perhaps excessively so, but I don’t think the problem can be overstated. I write frequently about computer malware, phishing scams and identity theft, all of which are serious problems. But a computer can be reset. Credit cards can be canceled. Fraudulent accounts can be closed and slowly, with great effort, cleaned up. The damage can be reversed. A photo, however, can’t be recalled once it’s online. Even if the person who shared it is found and punished the photo itself will always be out there, floating in cyberspace until the day the world ends.

And you may still have a problem even if the person you’re intimately texting can be trusted. Why? ‘Cause NSA Your Interest in Privacy Will Ensure You're Targeted By The NSA Your Interest in Privacy Will Ensure You're Targeted By The NSA Read More , of course. One of Snowden’s most recent revelations is an accusation that some NSA employees are more than happy to pass intercepted nudies among their co-workers, a practice that’s perhaps unsurprising, but disturbing to have confirmed.

What Can You Do?

The most obvious, safest route is to simply not send nude photos of yourself or others, period. Anything sent can in some way be shared, so there’s no way to securely distribute such material. Even sending it as an encrypted file doesn’t work since, of course, the encryption must be reversed for the photo or video to be usable.

You can provide yourself some modest security, however, with a secure messaging app like Privatext and TextSecure. These apps send messages as encrypted data rather than as a general SMS, and the messages can be opened only in the app itself. As a result, anything sent through these apps cannot be easily saved or shared, and some secure text messaging services let users delete a message after it’s already been sent.

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But these apps can never provide full security because any image opened by the receiver could also be captured via a screenshot or with a camera, in turn bypassing the app’s security. There’s also been plenty of accusations of loopholes, too; for example, a PCMag.com review of Text Secure complained that messages appeared in the notification center, rendering the app’s security questionable.

Another alternative is to use a password protected cloud service. Dropbox for business provides the option to send files protected by a password. Photobucket and Smartimage also provide this option. But on the other hand, there’s some risk in using a potentially public service to share anything at all. Accidentally check the wrong box and your nudie could end up in someone else’s image stream.

Perhaps the best option is a file sharing service that supports automatic file destruction. DSTRUX, a new cloud storage site that lets users share files that are automatically deleted after a user-defined time period, is a good example. The service even wraps files in code that prevents them from being shared or saved, and the service notifies the sender of the file if the receiver tries to take a screen capture. This is undoubtedly the most secure way to flash someone online, but it can still be defeated by a simple camera – and it’s a bit of hassle, don’t you think?

There’s More To It Than Revenge

Revenge porn is usually associated with angry boyfriends or girlfriends looking to seek retribution against someone who dumped them, cheated on them, or both. Yet not all so-called revenge porn is really about revenge. There are plenty of ways that ne’er-do-wells can access amateurs with their arse out. Stolen smartphones, hijacked webcams, and Trojan malware can put your most private moments in the hands of strangers. Grabbing a stripped-down selfie may not have even been the goal, but if a phone thief finds your collection of buff shots they may show it to friends for a laugh. Next thing you know, you’re a meme!

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That’s why you should follow smartphone security What You Really Need To Know About Smartphone Security What You Really Need To Know About Smartphone Security Read More and computer security best practices. We’ve already written extensively on both topics, so instead of repeating what’s been said I’ll simple direct you to the hyperlinks your eyes just passed by. Sure, adding a key lock and enabling remote wipe is a chore, but you’ll be glad you did if the phone ever goes MIA.

Remember The Risk

Despite the risks, million of people still send nude photos and suggestive texts. And who can blame them? There are few people truly uninterested in sex, and the very risk involved in sending photos to and fro can be part of the fun. Just remember what that risk can mean if you are one of the unlucky few whose privacy ends up destroyed and, at the very least, take the most basic measures of securing your smartphone and computer against attack.

Image Credit: DeviantArt/One-Clumsy-Bunny

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