Parents urged to talk to kids about danger of creating, sending intimate images
Some studies say up to 60% of people under 30 have created intimate images of themselves
A cyber security expert is advising people against sending intimate images of themselves to anyone after use of an online forum that allows people to trade naked images of women emerged in New Brunswick.
"It's Pandora's Box and once Pandora's Box is open there's no putting it all back in," said David Shipley, CEO and co-founder of Beauceron Security Inc.
Since last week, women across New Brunswick have been coming forward after learning they're the victims of a massive exchange of intimate photos online.
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The website, which has a Russian server, classifies the photographs by countries and regions, and the pictures are mostly of young women. Many are pornographic.
Attached to the images are the the names of the subjects and where they likely are — sometimes even their place of work. Users can search for images by region of the world — in Canada, New Brunswick or cities within the province, for instance.
Under the rules of the forum, a user who wants to see a picture of a particular person who is not on the site has to provide a photo of someone — preferably a nude photo.
Then the user names the person he or she is looking for, and fellow users who have pictures of that person can send them to the site.
Shipley said the majority of these types of websites are hosted outside the victim's jurisdiction — often in what's considered "bulletproof countries" such as Russia.
These countries don't have legal frameworks or agreements to take down the sites.
"These photos — once they get traded it's almost like baseball cards," he said. "They call them, colloquially, wins — can I get a win of so and so?"
He used an example of individuals looking for a girl working at a pizza counter in a New Brunswick town where they're asking for a "win on her" — also known as a naked photo.
"They're [websites] out there. They're increasingly popular."
According to some studies, Shipley said, up to 60 per cent of people under 30 have created intimate images of themselves and sent them to someone they trusted.
"Those people kept the images and maybe their accounts get hacked and maybe someone steals the images from there," he said.
"Maybe the individuals themselves, maliciously go and share it with others. Maybe at first they just share it with one of their buddies. Then their buddy puts it in his collection and then he shares it in this online forum.
"It's pretty easy for these digital files to make the jump to an online collection and from there they live on forever."
All about power
Shipley described this type of website as a societal issue, tied into the objectification of women. He said it's also a form of emotional and sexual abuse.
"There are people in our communities — mostly men who are on these forums right now, actively asking for intimate images of people that they're interested in and seeing if anyone else out there has them," he said.
"It's about power."
But some women are starting to fight back, flooding the forum with cartoon characters and images. Shipley said they're also starting to try to find the original IP addresses of the people posting requests so the practice and be flipped over to law enforcement.
"The people that are participating in these forums think that they're hidden," he said. "They're not, it's just a question of how much effort can someone put in to track them down."
"For those who are thinking about sharing these images, there's a good chance you can get caught. You just haven't yet."
First line of defence
Shipley said it's important parents have conversations with their kids about creating and sending intimate images.
From time to time, Shipley said, his company receives calls from parents concerned about their children.
"They gave them an iPhone for the purposes of staying in touch," he said. "They didn't imagine they were opening up a world of potential victimization."
RCMP said if a photo has appeared on a public site such as Facebook or Instagram, sharing the image is not illegal.
However, if a photo was sent by private message, or it concerns minors, the sharing would be considered illegal.
"The reality is this is a culture shift and it does come down to a lot of cases men who think it's OK to ask for this, who think it's OK to collect these images, who think it's OK to share this," he said. "It's not."