This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
There are many upsides to fame. But one of the downsides, as we all know, is that it becomes much harder to maintain your privacy once you become famous.
Yet privacy is often key to maintaining a strong reputation, both on and off the Internet. So how do celebrities keep their privacy, and what can we learn from their experiences?
Privacy starts with prevention
When we read about celebrity hacks and other privacy invasions, the common ingredient to many of these stories is the breach of an online account: a compromised cloud service, a hacked email address, and so on. Almost always, these kinds of attacks are preventable, facilitated by weak passwords or easily guessed credentials.
For this reason, celebrities need to be extra careful to follow privacy best practices. However, the same privacy advice applies to all of us. While the distribution of photos stolen from your accounts may not go viral, it can still have significant negative effects on your life.
Choose strong passwords
Digital technologies mean that celebrities now have phones, email accounts, and social media accounts, and all of these may have private information which can be targeted by hackers looking for either dirt to sell to the tabloids or to post “troll” messages to a widely viewed account.
Part of protecting your privacy and your online reputation is choosing strong passwords. Avoid pet names, family members, birthdays, and other information others could find out about you. Choose something opposite to your personality and use uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols to confuse password crackers.
Even better, use a password manager tool so you can have strong, randomly generated passwords for all your accounts without having to remember them all.
Stop people-search companies in their tracks
People-search companies scrape the Internet for information about everyone, then compile what they find into detailed profiles, available for free or at low cost to anyone. These kinds of profiles are invaluable for people trying to hack into your accounts because they provide the answers to common security questions. For celebrities, they also create threats from paparazzi or stalkers, since it becomes trivially easy to find where the celebrities live.
Fortunately, it is possible to opt out of the vast majority of people-search sites. For more detailed information about this topic, see some of our articles on the removal process.
Be careful what apps you download
In some cases, celebrities have gotten hacked through security vulnerabilities in common apps. While apps on your smartphone can be fun and useful, some of them can also be a nightmare for your privacy.
Carefully check which permissions the app wants, especially if it is asking for access to your contacts, social media accounts, or location data. Also look closely at reviews and criticisms of apps. Some apps will “phone home” with your information without informing you.
Most often, the issue is not that the maker of the app is trying to violate your privacy, but rather that the app collects more information than it needs and is sloppy with its storage. After that, an ingenious hacker simply finds a way to break into the app’s database and access your data.
Practice information sharing discipline
One of the best ways to keep your information private is to not give it out. It’s common for celebrities to have a set of contact information that is filtered by assistants, agents, and managers. This helps to put a layer of privacy between them and people trying to find out where they live, such as paparazzi or overly dedicated fans. It also decreases the likelihood of harmful gossip and other online reputation management problems, and it can keep you physically safe from strangers who might seek you out in person.
For non-celebrities, the practical version of this advice would be to avoid putting personal information on your social media profiles. Avoid listing your phone number or address on Facebook, for example.
Dealing with photos taken without permission
One of the most vexing celebrity privacy problems stems from photos taken without their consent. When it comes to photos, privacy laws vary from place to place, but in the United States, there is generally no protection against photos taken in public places. There are laws against trespassing for the purposes of taking photographs, yet even in those cases, it is not usually illegal to distribute the photos even if the taking of them was itself illegal.
For celebrities, the best solution to this problem is to be very guarded in one’s personal life, avoid compromising situations where unwanted photography is possible, and generally keep out of the public eye to the extent practical.
For everyone else, these kinds of precautions would be overkill and counterproductive. However, if you do find yourself facing the spread of unlicensed photos, there are steps you can take to resolve the issue. Depending on the nature of the photos, you may have certain rights over them. Even if not, you can usually decrease their prevalence online and minimize their impact. For specific advice on your situation, feel free to give us a call.