Data Privacy – Does it Have Impact on Your Mental Health?

Responsible for thousands if not millions of internet incidents, hackers have become a major sticking point for governments, companies and citizens in general, Yet, it seems financial losses are not the most worrying results that hackers inflict.  The medical profession is asserting that the mental health of the public is also at risk.

Elias Aboujaoude, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in Stanford has revealed in a study, the forms of problems people face mentally when their details are exposed These include, but not limited to “ anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” He goes on to suggest that corporation need to bear that in mind when addressing these breaches and hacks.

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A similar opinion is held by Lisa Wolfe, Founder of The Purple Octopus Project. In an interview with a popular magazine, she purported that anything that is stolen on servers will “… in all probability contain things we do not wish shared. Any information that falls into the wrong hands would be seen and felt like a breach of our space and right to privacy. An increase in anxiety and distress would, therefore, seem a reasonable response to what our mind determines as a threat.

Privacy breaches take on different forms and the effects each has on an individual varies as much. We delve into the nitty-gritty of commercial breaches, revenge porn, etc. and their threats to the victim’s mental health.

Commercial Breaches & Identify Theft

It is no secret that a lot of the websites we trust to keep our personal information safe are prone to being hacked. This fact alone is a source of anxiety for many people. When Google alerts you that a login into your account from a remote location has been blocked, I’m sure it makes you uneasy. It perturbs me for sure.

From medical facilities and credit companies all the way to social sites themselves, someone is always looking for a way to get unauthorized access to valuable files and information. And per a report by McAfee, the success rate of these attacks is pretty high. The global cost of cybercrime is now about $600 billion. And the effects are not felt by the customers only. In fact, there is a concern in the United Kingdom about the challenges business leaders are facing psychologically and emotionally due to data leaks. Over 54 per cent of C-level executives in the UK have suffered from stress-related illnesses and/or damage to their mental well-being as the result of a technology crisis.

identity theft

This is not to absolve tech companies of blame when it comes to causing users this kind of distress. “If a company has experienced a data breach, they’re required by state law to let you know about it. It’s news no one wants to hear, but knowing allows you to become hyperalert and keep an eye on things moving forward.” – Dave Ramsey. The problem is that that sanctions often follow these announcements so most companies try to do damage control before it reaches the public ear. As a result, all the measures that individuals could take (Credit monitoring or changing of passwords) are not executed on time resulting in massive losses and massive shock when the firms finally break the news.

It is worth noting that corporate-level hacks are not the only way that people get defrauded. Actually, a lot of victims are stolen from personally.  With phishing emails being the most prevalent ways of scamming people, it was discovered that on the average $500 was lost per victim and around $328 million in total. According to a Heimdal Security report, that equates to about 656,000 people getting defrauded online last year alone- numbers that show that the emotional and psychological distress could be more widescale than we thought.

Inappropriate Photos & Videos

Undoubtedly, this is an area of data breach that can haunt a person for years. With the emergence of social media, the abuse individuals have to endure when their naked pictures surface is really troubling. The shame of having to face people who otherwise held you in high regard has led a lot to relocate or seclude themselves entirely from society.  And when it comes to these types of privacy breaches, no one is exempted. In fact, the more popular you are, the higher the risk of hacker snooping around your storage accounts and browsing history.

The digital media site, Ranker, created a timeline of all the major celebrity privacy invasions since 2010.

In 2010, Jessica Alba’s cellphone was hacked and nude photos of the actress, which were taken while she was pregnant, surfaced on the Internet.
In 2011, Mila Kunis’s phone was hacked, and topless photos of Justin Timberlake lying in bed were released, prompting rumours that the two stars hooked up.
In 2014, nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence were released in conjunction with the massive hack known as The Fappening. Lawrence, Rihanna, and other hacking victims joined forces to sue Google for $100 million for capitalizing on their leaked photos. In 2014, Kirsten Dunst was also a victim of a massive iCloud hack. The star took to Twitter to voice her frustrations, sarcastically saying “Thank you iCloud” and then using emojis to imply that the service is a piece of sh*t.
In March 2017, another wave of celebs became victims of phone hacks when naked pics and private pictures of actresses Emma Watson, Amanda Seyfried, Kate Hudson, Rosario Dawson, Paige, Katie Cassidy, Analeigh Tipton, and more were leaked online.
In August 2017, the celebrity hacking scandal dubbed as “The Fappening 3.0” leaked nude photos of Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Tiger Woods, Stella Maxwell, Lindsey Vonn, and Katharine McPhee.
In August 2018, one of the hackers responsible for The Fappening, George Garofano, was sentenced to eight months in prison for his part in the phishing scheme. He also faces three years of supervised released post-prison and was assigned 60 hours of community service.

These leaks have become so rampant and were so damaging even to celebrities who many consider being comfortable in their own skin. In fact, Victoria Justice and gymnast McKayla Maroney initially denied the authenticity of the images but later confessed their legitimacy, with the former going on to press charges. If celebrities find these leaks pretty distressing, how much more the anguish of the average internet user who has a not-so-good body? And what about those whose breaches actually show them indulging in the explicit?

Recordings of sexual intercourse fall in a whole category of their own. Perhaps the most damning privacy breach of all, victims face long bouts of depression and almost never recover when such videos are made public.

For many, sex is the most private thing they experience and it is spiritual as much as it is physical. When it is leaked, it intrudes your personality as well as your privacy. Aside from adult performers, very few people have been known to leak their own recordings and with good reason. Society, as polarized as it is today, is still deriding people caught in the act and the disappointment expressed by loved ones can be very severe.

Imagine going for a job interview and getting asked if you are the person in a certain sex tape that got leaked years ago. The shame alone can mess with your mind. In Ghana, a high school student killed herself after such a tape got released. Unable to handle the shame, she slit her wrist and bled out. This resulted in her partner (in the video) being detained after her family reported the case to the police.

This is a good juncture to also point out that the family and people close the victim of these kinds of privacy breaches also suffer an amount of embarrassment from the way society judges their association with the victim.

Will it Ever Stop?

Governments around the world have now centred their focus on issues pertaining to privacy protection especially for financial institutions and the European Union has taken strong actions in this direction. With GDPR, the onus has been placed on companies to restrict the amount of data that is kept on their server, thus reducing the severity of any breach.

As usual, companies in the US are trying to influence the government into passing a loop-hole filled bill that will mitigate the strong reforms that the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 has brought. If only they knew how important it is to protect the end-users at all cost. The mental state of individuals(victims)has a ripple effect on the economy. It affects their work; their work affects the firms and the firms affect the economy.

Apple and Google have taken steps to improve the security of their respective cloud systems and we must also take responsibility for how we protect our electronic devices and the things we record on them. There will always be a section of the population who will not care about the abuse data victims face and the mental state it throws them in. There will always be that percentage who live to watch and share the personal details of other people’s lives. As long as this demand exists, hackers will always try to find ways of invading the lives of others or cloud systems if need be.  We can only stop this if we band together and use their own arsenal against them. Imagine that instead of ridiculing the person in a sex tape, the whole internet community ridicules the account that first leaked it.  Slowly, minds will start to change and all these habits will fade out. Mind over matter after all.

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