The End of Revenge Porn?

worried woman

Recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys could mark the beginning of the end for the revenge pornography industry. Last week, the FTC launched a complaint against Craig Brittain, the owner and operator of the revenge pornography website Is Anybody Down. Earlier this week, Kevin Bollaert was convicted of identity theft and extortion for his operation of the site UGotPosted.

ReputationDefender has always spoken out against sites that prey on the sensitive personal information of individuals, but legal defenses have to date been few and far between thanks to free speech protections. However, these cases sidestep the free speech issue and frame the situation in terms of a breach of information shared in confidence. We welcome this development and applaud the move to afford greater protections to the online privacy of individuals. That said, there is still a long way to go. Threats to personal privacy have been increasing over time, not diminishing, and more needs to be done to protect individuals in the rapidly evolving field of consumer data collection.

Schemes designed to embarrass and extort

According to the FTC complaint (PDF), Brittain used a number of duplicitous tactics to recruit subjects for his website, including posing as a woman on a fake Craigslist profile and implementing a “bounty” system in which any user could request photographs of a specific person in exchange for payment. He also solicited submissions from visitors to the website, many of which were shared by victims’ ex-boyfriends and posted without permission. In a display of flagrant disrespect for subjects’ privacy, he would ask for their names, ages, locations, Facebook profiles, and phone numbers. Brittain often refused to remove photographs when contacted by his victims, directing them instead to paid removal sites that he owned and operated. In total, the FTC estimated that Brittain gained approximately $12,000 in profits from these schemes. Brittain has since posted an apology statement and explanation of the FTC’s decision to his website.

Has your personal information been exposed online?Remove my information

In another similar case, Kevin Bollaert was convicted of extortion, conspiracy, and identity theft for his joint operation of revenge pornography website UGotPosted and its counterpart ChangeMyReputation. Like Brittain, Bollaert would provide victims with only one option for removing the photographs appearing on his website: payment through a purportedly third-party site that he actually operated himself. He would also charge several hundred dollars per posting, and is reported to have made tens of thousands of dollars through the operation.

Balancing free speech with privacy rights

These two cases represent a huge step forward in the field of digital privacy, and they do so while protecting constitutional free speech rights. Legally speaking, protections of free speech often seem to trump basic rights to privacy, but in these cases the FTC and state attorneys are instead addressing the unauthorized disclosure of information that was given in confidence. This allows them to uphold free speech laws while defending individual privacy and dignity.

This type of balanced approach has become increasingly common, and we see it in other scenarios where individuals’ personal information has been exploited by profiteers. For instance, many law enforcement systems have elected to stop posting prisoner mugshots online because of sites like Mugshots.com that exploit them for profit. Several states have also passed laws prohibiting the commercial use of law enforcement booking photos.

Giving individuals greater control

Despite these positive steps, however, there is still a long way to go. At ReputationDefender, we support an individual’s right to direct control over the information that appears about him or her online. We strongly believe that individuals should have a say in where their personal information is stored, how it is used, and with whom it is shared.

Ready to protect your identity & secure your private information?Protect my identity

There are far too many areas in which individuals have no control or even visibility into how their personal information is used, and the past few years have seen a blossoming of applications for this data. In “sharing economy” two-way rating platforms, for instance, both consumers and providers rank each other. This means individuals can be blacklisted from a service without being aware of it and with no recourse for redress. Similarly, increasing numbers of online retailers have been caught showing different offerings or pricing to different individuals, using personal information collected by data brokers to charge the highest fee possible.

ReputationDefender’s privacy tools were developed specifically to combat these types of trends, and we update them constantly to respond to evolving privacy threats. That said, efforts like those of the FTC and privacy-conscious state attorneys are an essential piece of the puzzle, and we need to see more initiatives of this kind targeted at protecting individuals and giving them control.

Contact us for a free consultation

ReputationDefender® consultations are:

  • Free and without obligation
  • Discreet and confidential
  • Conducted by a reputation management expert
  • Tailored to your specific case

For immediate assistance, call: 877-492-5209 877-492-5209

 

Fill out the form and we will get back to you within one business day.