We know that cyberbullying has led to many suicides, often of vulnerable teenagers who were lured into sending explicit photos of their bodies. What we see in the Sony exposé are revealing glimpses into the minds of Hollywood bigwigs. These snapshots are not very attractive.

There’s no need to repeat the juicier leaked emails here because they’ve been widely circulated online and even in the mainstream media. There’s also good legal reason not to rehash them since Sony Pictures, in a desperate move, has been threatening legal action against media outlets that continue to use what is clearly stolen information.

In an interesting blog post, retired senior U.S. Army officer Lawrence Dietz likens the aftermath of being hacked to having your home burgled. “There is an irrational and emotional sense of personal violation even though the crime itself is non-violent and material possessions can always be replaced.”

In fact, Dietz understates the case, since while your stolen TV set can be re-purchased with insurance money, how do you un-say something inappropriate you put in an email?

There used to be an “unsend” function in standalone corporate email systems like IBM’s PROFS.It allowed you retract an ill-considered email if the recipient had not yet read it. And there’s a little known feature in Microsoft Outlook that, in some circumstances, still allows you to cancel a message and keep someone from reading it. However, it’s best to assume that once you fire off an email it’s irrevocably on its way to the recipient, and, as we are starting to realize, perhaps to the front page of the newspaper as well.

As I explain in Technocreep, reigning Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf was the victim of a digital intruder who installed the Blackshades creepware on her computer. At will, he could turn on the camera on her laptop computer, which she often kept in her bedroom. Wolf did the right thing, and told her mother, who went to the police. The perpetrator was convicted and jailed. Wolf described the terror she felt as a result of this invasion of her private space in a newspaper article, saying “You would never think somebody would be watching you in your room and this guy had been. The thought of that just gave me nightmares.”

Teen beauty queens and Sony executives are not the first to have regrets over their digital footprints. President Ronald Reagan and Lt. Col. Oliver North undoubtedly regretted some of the things they said in emails, as did Bill Gates. A January 5, 1996, electronic memo from him was introduced as damning evidence in Microsoft’s antitrust trial.

In Technocreep, I quote a drunken rant from then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (which was introduced in a court case, hence is available). In it, he shows great disrespect for his future “users”, writing “I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.”

I think it’s fair to say that every single one of us has things in our email archive that we’d regret getting out to the public. While it takes some effort, it might be wise to delete things that you no longer need, or at least move them to an archive file which you keep on a USB stick in a locked drawer. You may need that human resources file from 2004 some day, but you’re a lot safer if it’s not spinning online. Of course, it probably is archived at some government agency, IT backup, etc. Still, why make it easier for the bad guys to find your dirt? And we all have digital dirt.

In a bizarre move, a prominent German politician is advocating a move back to manual typewriters to thwart electronic snoopery. Switching to old technology would simply raise other types of security concerns: Who has access to the used ribbons? What about grabbing information from the typewriter roller?

Also, having a single copy of something is pretty rare nowadays and the minute those carefully typed pages are run through a modern photocopier they become electronic. In fact, malefactors have even stolen information from the memory banks of copying machines. Put that photocopier on a network, or the Internet, and, well, you’re back to square one except with spelling errors because who can really type flawlessly on a manual machine?

Advice to Hollywood high rollers, and others: a much better plan is to simply keep your nasty thoughts to yourself, or express them face to face over a nice lunch at the Fairmont Palliser. Just make sure that everybody’s cellphone is turned off because, again as explained in Technocreep, there are plenty of ways for the bad guys to use those things to eavesdrop and even record your conversations.

Dr. Tom Keenan is an award winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the faculty of environmental design at the University of Calgary, and author of the new book

Technocreep (www.orbooks.com/technocreep)

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