If you can't say something nice
“I don’t say anything over text that could get me into trouble,” said a friend of mine last week.
We’d been talking about that sickening feeling when you send a text to the person that you’re talking about, rather to the person you’re talking about them to.
Don’t judge me – we’ve all done it.There’s even a website dedicated to it called Wrong Number Texts.
The lady I was talking to is in her 50s and at first I thought it was a generational thing and that she was being overcautious.
After all, when we spend so much of our time communicating via text, email, WhatsApp and Facebook, surely it wouldn’t be feasible to never say anything bad about anyone, or send something innocent but private to the wrong number.
Then I remembered hearing about a type of ransomware called ‘LeakerLocker’. It locks your phone and threatens to share your emails, texts, web history and photos with your entire contact list unless you pay the hacker $50.
Unless you plan on deleting your boss, parents and a good half of your friends from your contacts list, I’d be willing to bet that’s not something even the nicest of us would want to happen.
The problem is it’s so easy to forget that when you share something it’s out there, in ink, forever – and horribly, traumatically shareable.
This was brought into painful focus this week with the tragic story of a 17-year-old Northern Irish schoolboy who was blackmailed by a Romanian hacker.
The hacker convinced the boy to send him explicit pictures via webcam, and then sent the pictures to the boy’s friends after he couldn’t pay the ransom.
The boy committed suicide and the blackmailer was jailed this week for four years.
It might seem a bit dated to be talking about the dangers of sending explicit pictures via webcam but clearly being aware of what you share is still a lesson that needs to be learned – and, crucially, passed on.
It might be awkward to tell your kids or friends to be careful about sending dodgy pictures online or saying mean things about their frenemies via text, but as people who have grown up with huge swathes of their communication via text and social media it probably wouldn’t even occur to them that a throwaway text or picture to someone they trust could come back to haunt them.
It’s not just the next generation that’s at risk either.
There have been countless examples of this happening to adults, from the high-profile – such as the ‘Fappening’ in 2014, which saw over 500 private celeb pictures shared online – to the subtle, such as ratting – where a users’ webcam is turned on and set to record without them realising.
I was reading the feed of one particularly angry tech expert on Twitter yesterday who said that we’re all idiots if we think that Facebook isn’t reading our private massages.
This might sound a bit conspiracy theory-y, but he may well be right to be angry – it is probably foolish to believe our communications are as private as we think they are.
The threat of hackers accessing our private information isn’t a new thing but there have always been ways around it for the aware, from installing anti-virus to creating backups of files in case of ransomware attacks. At the end of the day money isn’t the be all and end all anyway.
What’s new is this threat of sharing and shaming, and especially when it targets the next generation.
That 17-year-old boy probably never thought he’d be a target for an international hacker.
We need to wake up and realise that writing something out digitally isn’t the same as having a chat with a mate behind closed doors, and that there’s way more opportunity for disaster – even if it is that you just send a text meant for your best mate Dan to your Dad.
In all likelihood people aren’t going to stop saying embarrassing or incriminating things over text but it’s something to bear in mind next time you go to hit the send button.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some texts to delete…