WTF! “Respectable smut” and dangerous sexism

There is a story over on the Independent right now that stopped me in my tracks. Because unless the Independent have been incredibly clever about mocking up the picture used to illustrate it, they have just gone and committed a major breach of individual privacy with potentially serious consequences for the individuals concerned.

Clumsy

The story is straightforward enough: hackers have broken into the dating part of adult website adult.com (NSFW). They have lifted details of as many as 4 million users, some of whom must now be worried about being exposed to friends, family – even partners. Because, believe it or not, some of the people on adult.com are looking for a little excitement outside of an existing relationship.

I’m linking to the story only because you need to see the page put up by the Independent, to understand the problem – well, two problems – here.

For they have illustrated it with what looks suspiciously like a screencap from the site itself. Its a total cliche of a picture featuring what appear to be five site users. Four are face on to camera. Or to put it another way, as the Independent does: “a hacker has exposed the personal and sexual details of …users on one of the world-leading dating sites”.

And the Independent has just outed four of them. Not just the Independent, either. For their story follows a nice edgy story on Channel Four News which illustrates its story by – you’ve guessed it! – flashing up pictures of various adult site users on screen.

Hypocritical

What fun, to be on the sofa in a household where one partner has just recognised the face of their beloved on screen looking for “hot action”.

This is poor stuff – but typical of mainstream news media, who perpetually leech off the sexuality of others. Stories involving sex are sexy: because they allow “serious” media to sound all high-minded, while simultaneously decorating their reportage with smutty pics. “We are really, really concerned and – oh, look: a pair of boobs!”

When i worked on the Register a few years back, this sort of thing was pretty standard fare. A serious, often government, organisation, would release a serious report, with personal or sensitive details “redacted”. Unfortunately, most organisations had only a passing understanding of how image software worked, and their efforts at blanking out parts of a document were effective for as long as it took our readers to load it into their software and remove the overlay. Usually about four seconds.

In this case, neither the Independent nor Channel 4 have made the slightest attempt to protect individual privacy.

And sure: i can imagine some jobsworth pictures editor arguing that the images are already “out there”: that the subjects “chose” to put them out into the public sphere. But that’s not exactly true: they put the images where others with similar interests might find them. They had no expectation that they would end up plastered over mainstream TV or newsprint.

Sexist…and dangerous

There is, too, a second issue. How strange, in respect of a site that appears to take men and women, that the pictures featured, by Channel 4 and Independent alike, are skewed very heavily towards pics of women.

The Independent piece managed to include a pic of a busty young model that otherwise would not be out of place on page 3. Channel 4 included a small number of pics of men: but otherwise, the format of their report illustrates the issue with pictures and sexualised images of women, before ending on a lengthy discussion between their (male) technology reporter and a (male) real person affected by the issue, thereby putting the focus primarily on the danger to blokes of blackmail, with nary a mention of the rather more physical dangers to women of being identified in this way.

Bottom line: clean your act up, Independent, Channel 4. And if you are going to expose the exposers, try not to use high-mindedness as an excuse for being every bit as bad as them

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About janefae

On my way from here to there
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6 Responses to WTF! “Respectable smut” and dangerous sexism

  1. It appears to me that you have misunderstood the article. The “Independent” piece is a news article about someone cracking the database behind a website and taking private customer data from it. The illustration in the article appears to be nothing more than a screenshot of a website. It is quite likely the website that is the subject of the article. The images shown in the screenshot are clearly marketing images used by the makers of the website. I have not verified this by accessing the website itself, but I have been on the Internet long enough to know how sites like that advertise themselves. What the “Independent” has done is no different from reporting a break-in at a bank and illustrating it with a photograph of a bank.

    • janefae says:

      Don’t think so, actually: i checked to see if that image was being used anywhere else and at time of writing, only in places that used the Indy as source. So not obviously an advertising page, unless created on the fly. And i certainly don’t think the C4 images were that!

      And no: i don’t think i have misunderstood the Indy piece. It is indeed about someone hacking the database behind the website…but the reason it is news is the concern over individual privacy. It remains a concern whether the Indy type that or not. Simple commonsense suggests they should take steps not to compromise individual privacy and it really is not clear they have not done that.

      Irrespective, my second point stands about the gendered selection of imagery. Basically, such stories are good excuses for supposedly respectable editors to illustrate their pages with smut…

    • the big picture (of various soft porneque models) is a marketing image as it consistently comes up on the site page..the four or five below are randomly chosen site members and are the ones Jane is talking about and she’s right it is one thing to accept a sites t&cs right to put your profile pic on the front page when you know the vast majority of people who will see it are people looking for what you are offering (or variation thereof). Totally another thing for it to be paraded in front of the moral majority in the mainstream press…who are far more likely to include your friends and relations.

  2. Anne Walker says:

    it’s doubtful those pictures are anything other than stock imagery and certainly not worth getting worked up about. One of their rivals even seems to have perfected Eliza chat bots, so many of the women are purely imaginary anyway. You can also buy profiles online quite cheaply, I think 10,000 cost less than a couple of hundred bucks, and they’re sold purposely for ‘entrepreneurs’ setting up specialist dating sites, so for instance if I wanted a dating site for overweight radical feminist cat lovers and their admirers I could have a targeted one up and running, with a couple of thousand ‘clients’, within a few hours.

    The online dating industry is fascinating btw, if you’d like a bit of an insight go read http://blog.okcupid.com/. They don’t post as much as they used to, but you’ll spend a happy few hours delving through the back posts and discovering things about men and women you never even dreamed about.

  3. Jane Seymour says:

    What utter nonsense and claptrap!!!

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