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How to practice safe sexting

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    People have been using media
    to talk about sex for a long time.
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    Love letters, phone sex, racy Polaroids.
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    There's even a story of a girl who eloped
    with a man that she met over the telegraph
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    in 1886.
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    Today we have sexting,
    and I am a sexting expert.
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    Not an expert sexter.
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    Though, I do know what this means --
    I think you do too.
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    [it's a penis]
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    (Laughter)
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    I have been studying sexting since
    the media attention to it began in 2008.
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    I wrote a book on the moral
    panic about sexting.
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    And here's what I found:
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    most people are worrying
    about the wrong thing.
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    They're trying to just prevent
    sexting from happening entirely.
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    But let me ask you this:
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    As long as it's completely consensual,
    what's the problem with sexting?
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    People are into all sorts of things
    that you may not be into,
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    like blue cheese or cilantro.
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    (Laughter)
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    Sexting is certainly risky,
    like anything that's fun,
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    but as long as you're not sending an image
    to someone who doesn't want to receive it,
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    there's no harm.
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    What I do think is a serious problem
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    is when people share
    private images of others
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    without their permission.
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    And instead of worrying about sexting,
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    what I think we need to do
    is think a lot more about digital privacy.
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    The key is consent.
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    Right now most people
    are thinking about sexting
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    without really thinking
    about consent at all.
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    Did you know that we currently
    criminalize teen sexting?
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    It can be a crime because
    it counts as child pornography,
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    if there's an image of someone under 18,
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    and it doesn't even matter
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    if they took that image of themselves
    and shared it willingly.
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    So we end up with this
    bizarre legal situation
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    where two 17-year-olds
    can legally have sex in most US states
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    but they can't photograph it.
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    Some states have also tried
    passing sexting misdemeanor laws
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    but these laws repeat the same problem
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    because they still
    make consensual sexting illegal.
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    It doesn't make sense
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    to try to ban all sexting
    to try to address privacy violations.
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    This is kind of like saying,
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    let's solve the problem of date rape
    by just making dating completely illegal.
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    Most teens don't get arrested for sexting,
    but can you guess who does?
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    It's often teens who are disliked
    by their partner's parents.
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    And this can be because of class bias,
    racism or homophobia.
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    Most prosecutors are,
    of course, smart enough
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    not to use child pornography charges
    against teenagers, but some do.
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    According to researchers
    at the University of New Hampshire
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    seven percent of all child pornography
    possession arrests are teens,
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    sexting consensually with other teens.
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    Child pornography is a serious crime,
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    but it's just not
    the same thing as teen sexting.
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    Parents and educators
    are also responding to sexting
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    without really thinking
    too much about consent.
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    Their message to teens is often:
    just don't do it.
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    And I totally get it --
    there are serious legal risks
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    and of course, that potential
    for privacy violations.
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    And when you were a teen,
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    I'm sure you did exactly
    as you were told, right?
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    You're probably thinking,
    my kid would never sext.
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    And that's true, your little angel
    may not be sexting
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    because only 33 percent
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    of 16- and 17-year-olds are sexting.
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    But, sorry, by the time they're older,
    odds are they will be sexting.
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    Every study I've seen puts the rate
    above 50 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds.
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    And most of the time, nothing goes wrong.
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    People ask me all the time things like,
    isn't sexting just so dangerous, though?
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    It's like you wouldn't
    leave your wallet on a park bench
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    and you expect it's going to get stolen
    if you do that, right?
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    Here's how I think about it:
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    sexting is like leaving your wallet
    at your boyfriend's house.
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    If you come back the next day
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    and all the money is just gone,
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    you really need to dump that guy.
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    (Laughter)
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    So instead of criminalizing sexting
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    to try to prevent
    these privacy violations,
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    instead we need to make consent central
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    to how we think about the circulation
    of our private information.
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    Every new media technology
    raises privacy concerns.
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    In fact, in the US the very first
    major debates about privacy
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    were in response to technologies
    that were relatively new at the time.
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    In the late 1800s,
    people were worried about cameras,
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    which were just suddenly
    more portable than ever before,
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    and newspaper gossip columns.
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    They were worried that the camera
    would capture information about them,
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    take it out of context
    and widely disseminate it.
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    Does this sound familiar?
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    It's exactly what we're worrying about
    now with social media and drone cameras,
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    and, of course, sexting.
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    And these fears about technology,
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    they make sense
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    because technologies
    can amplify and bring out
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    our worst qualities and behaviors.
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    But there are solutions.
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    And we've been here before
    with a dangerous new technology.
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    In 1908, Ford introduced the Model T car.
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    Traffic fatality rates were rising.
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    It was a serious problem --
    it looks so safe, right?
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    Our first response
    was to try to change drivers' behavior,
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    so we developed speed limits
    and enforced them through fines.
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    But over the following decades,
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    we started to realize the technology
    of the car itself is not just neutral.
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    We could design the car to make it safer.
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    So in the 1920s, we got
    shatter-resistant windshields.
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    In the 1950s, seat belts.
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    And in the 1990s, airbags.
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    All three of these areas:
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    laws, individuals and industry
    came together over time
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    to help solve the problem
    that a new technology causes.
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    And we can do the same thing
    with digital privacy.
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    Of course, it comes back to consent.
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    Here's the idea.
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    Before anyone can distribute
    your private information,
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    they should have to get your permission.
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    This idea of affirmative consent
    comes from anti-rape activists
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    who tell us that we need consent
    for every sexual act.
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    And we have really high standards
    for consent in a lot of other areas.
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    Think about having surgery.
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    Your doctor has to make sure
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    that you are meaningfully and knowingly
    consenting to that medical procedure.
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    This is not the type of consent
    like with an iTunes Terms of Service
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    where you just scroll to the bottom
    and you're like, agree, agree, whatever.
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    (Laughter)
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    If we think more about consent,
    we can have better privacy laws.
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    Right now, we just don't have
    that many protections.
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    If your ex-husband or your ex-wife
    is a terrible person,
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    they can take your nude photos
    and upload them to a porn site.
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    It can be really hard
    to get those images taken down.
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    And in a lot of states,
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    you're actually better off
    if you took the images of yourself
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    because then you can
    file a copyright claim.
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    (Laughter)
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    Right now, if someone
    violates your privacy,
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    whether that's an individual
    or a company or the NSA,
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    you can try filing a lawsuit,
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    though you may not be successful
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    because many courts assume
    that digital privacy is just impossible.
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    So they're not willing
    to punish anyone for violating it.
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    I still hear people
    asking me all the time,
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    isn't a digital image somehow blurring
    the line between public and private
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    because it's digital, right?
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    No! No!
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    Everything digital
    is not just automatically public.
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    That doesn't make any sense.
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    As NYU legal scholar
    Helen Nissenbaum tells us,
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    we have laws and policies and norms
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    that protect all kinds
    of information that's private,
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    and it doesn't make a difference
    if it's digital or not.
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    All of your health records are digitized
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    but your doctor can't
    just share them with anyone.
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    All of your financial information
    is held in digital databases,
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    but your credit card company can't
    just post your purchase history online.
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    Better laws could help address
    privacy violations after they happen,
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    but one of the easiest things
    we can all do is make personal changes
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    to help protect each other's privacy.
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    We're always told that privacy
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    is our own, sole,
    individual responsibility.
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    We're told, constantly monitor
    and update your privacy settings.
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    We're told, never share anything
    you wouldn't want the entire world to see.
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    This doesn't make sense.
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    Digital media are social environments
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    and we share things
    with people we trust all day, every day.
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    As Princeton researcher
    Janet Vertesi argues,
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    our data and our privacy,
    they're not just personal,
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    they're actually interpersonal.
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    And so one thing you can do
    that's really easy
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    is just start asking for permission before
    you share anyone else's information.
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    If you want to post a photo
    of someone online, ask for permission.
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    If you want to forward an email thread,
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    ask for permission.
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    And if you want to share
    someone's nude selfie,
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    obviously, ask for permission.
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    These individual changes can really
    help us protect each other's privacy,
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    but we need technology companies
    on board as well.
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    These companies have very little
    incentive to help protect our privacy
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    because their business models
    depend on us sharing everything
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    with as many people as possible.
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    Right now, if I send you an image,
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    you can forward that
    to anyone that you want.
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    But what if I got to decide
    if that image was forwardable or not?
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    This would tell you, you don't
    have my permission to send this image out.
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    We do this kind of thing all the time
    to protect copyright.
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    If you buy an e-book, you can't just
    send it out to as many people as you want.
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    So why not try this with mobile phones?
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    What you can do is we can demand
    that tech companies add these protections
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    to our devices and our platforms
    as the default.
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    After all, you can choose
    the color of your car,
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    but the airbags are always standard.
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    If we don't think more
    about digital privacy and consent,
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    there can be serious consequences.
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    There was a teenager from Ohio --
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    let's call her Jennifer,
    for the sake of her privacy.
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    She shared nude photos of herself
    with her high school boyfriend,
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    thinking she could trust him.
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    Unfortunately, he betrayed her
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    and sent her photos
    around the entire school.
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    Jennifer was embarrassed and humiliated,
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    but instead of being compassionate,
    her classmates harassed her.
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    They called her a slut and a whore
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    and they made her life miserable.
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    Jennifer started missing school
    and her grades dropped.
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    Ultimately, Jennifer decided
    to end her own life.
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    Jennifer did nothing wrong.
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    All she did was share a nude photo
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    with someone she thought
    that she could trust.
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    And yet our laws tell her
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    that she committed a horrible crime
    equivalent to child pornography.
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    Our gender norms tell her
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    that by producing
    this nude image of herself,
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    she somehow did the most
    horrible, shameful thing.
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    And when we assume that privacy
    is impossible in digital media,
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    we completely write off and excuse
    her boyfriend's bad, bad behavior.
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    People are still saying all the time
    to victims of privacy violations,
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    "What were you thinking?
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    You should have never sent that image."
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    If you're trying to figure out
    what to say instead, try this.
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    Imagine you've run into your friend
    who broke their leg skiing.
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    They took a risk to do something fun,
    and it didn't end well.
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    But you're probably
    not going to be the jerk who says,
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    "Well, I guess you shouldn't
    have gone skiing then."
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    If we think more about consent,
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    we can see that victims
    of privacy violations
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    deserve our compassion,
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    not criminalization, shaming,
    harassment or punishment.
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    We can support victims,
    and we can prevent some privacy violations
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    by making these legal,
    individual and technological changes.
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    Because the problem is not sexting,
    the issue is digital privacy.
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    And one solution is consent.
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    So the next time a victim
    of a privacy violation comes up to you,
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    instead of blaming them,
    let's do this instead:
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    let's shift our ideas
    about digital privacy,
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    and let's respond with compassion.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
How to practice safe sexting
Speaker:
Amy Adele Hasinoff
Description:

Sexting, like anything that's fun, runs its risks -- but a serious violation of privacy shouldn't be one of them. Amy Adele Hasinoff looks at problematic responses to sexting in mass media, law and education, offering practical solutions for how individuals and tech companies can protect sensitive (and, ahem, potentially scandalous) digital files.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:25

English subtitles

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