The Hacker Who Created ‘the Fappening’ Is About to Have Something Taken From Him
He's facing prison time, and his digital identity will never be the same.
If you were to search for “the Fappening” right now, it wouldn’t take long to find what you might be looking for. About six results down the page, there it is: “The Fappening—free leaked nude celebrities pics & videos.” And then again a couple more links down. And then again, on a page with a telling name: Rekt Celebs.
Mixed throughout the results is some related news. Ryan Collins, the 36-year-old Pennsylvania man behind the now infamous Labor Day weekend 2014 hack, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of “unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information.”
Collins is said to have conducted a series of phishing schemes between 2012 and 2014, in which he sent emails to his victims pretending to be Apple or Google, asking them to update their passwords. Once they responded, he then used that information to gain access to their personal information. In some cases, he downloaded the entire contents of their iCloud libraries. In total, Collins found his way into the private information of at least 50 iCloud and 72 Gmail accounts, prosecutors say, “most of which belonged to female celebrities.” You can read the court documents here (via Gawker).
Strangely, they have not charged Collins, himself, with uploading the photos to sites like 4Chan and Reddit, where they proliferated in the early days of the leak. Nor have any of us who have seen them been charged, although, to be sure, we’re complicit in the violation in our own way.
Among the more notable celebrities affected were those, like Jennifer Lawrence, who were justifiably furious over the violation or privacy. “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,” she told Vanity Fair.
“It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.”
The reason the photos of the women in question spread so far and wide isn’t hard to understand. Women in various states of undress are practically the bedrock on which the entire Internet is built. You could spend your entire life searching for photos of naked women online and never, as long as you live, run out of new material—and believe me, there are people who are putting that theory to the test every day. But there’s something different about these photos, and the nature of the difference is apparent in Lawrence’s reaction: She didn’t want anyone to see them.
It isn’t even the thrill of seeing a famous or beautiful woman naked that motivated Collins, or the millions who have looked at the photos. While there were certainly a number of very famous women like her in the cache, most of those involved aren’t particularly well-known. The one thing they all do have in common, however, is that they didn’t give strangers consent.
It’s not the subject matter then; it’s the process by which they were procured that provides the illicit thrill for the determined serial masturbator. It’s not a celebrity’s naked body people are after here, it’s the viewing of that body without permission. And much like many argue that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power, I’m not even sure that the primary source of enjoyment of these photos was for masturbatory purposes. The denizens of the pornier corners of the web certainly have a lot more explicit material to work with than relatively demure selfies. If you possess these photos, you thereby possess a part of the person in them. There’s a twisted power in that, and it’s wrong.
Collins faces up to five years in prison, and his reputation has been tarnished. Search for “the Fappening” now, and the top results are about him, the man who did this, not about the photos, themselves. Collins has lost control of his digital self; it has been taken from him. I wonder how he feels.