As private images ripped from the iCloud accounts of celebrities papered the internet last weekend, most people writing about the story called the release of the photos "leaks," even though they were nothing of the sort.
Early reports indicate that the photos were stolen, swapped, and disseminated by an “underground” ring of hackers who discussed the theft on message boards of sites like 4chan and AnonIB. It was a long-running, planned-out, targeted affair, but the end effect is the same as a “photo leak”: the images we see are candid shots of women obviously taken by or intended for a romantic partner.
The term “leak” is very broadly defined—it’s just the disclosure of information to the media from an unnamed source. But in calling these “leaks,” we’re taking things too far. Leaks to the media are almost always planned and approved, a way to disseminate sensitive information. But what’s happened here is much more black-and-white: the images were stolen and given not to any media source but just posted directly onto the internet.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the actresses targeted, made it very clear how personally invaded she felt by the theft, noting that the pictures of her that were posted were taken by her husband and deleted long ago.
Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.— Mary E. Winstead (@M_E_Winstead) August 31, 2014
That points to another argument we should be shutting down too, of course—the idea that celebrities, particularly women, shouldn’t be taking such pictures at all because, I guess, they’re famous and should know better. So many of these pictures were obviously taken by someone else in the room, and for all we know, almost instantly deleted thereafter. But more importantly, holding the women who have been the subject of theft responsible for whatever they do in the privacy of their lives is absurd. The use of the word “leak” reinforces that—it makes it sound like the release of these photos was a decision, on a par with taking them, and equating those two things is exactly the wrong way to think about this incident.