Love, Relationships, and #SextRegret: It’s Time to Take Back the Web

What would you do if someone threatened to post risqué photos of you on the Internet? According to a new McAfee survey, 68.7% of us have used a smartphone to send personal or intimate text messages, emails, or photos – a habit that could put your privacy (and even your job, relationships, or financial stability) at risk.

Before McAfee commissioned the Love, Relationships, and Technology report, we of course knew the results would be most relevant as we drew close to Valentine’s Day. What we didn’t know was that a federal hacker extortion case would break just days before the survey’s launch, bringing home the tangible risks associated with not only sharing sensitive content with friends and partners, but with saving or sending that content anywhere online, regardless of the recipient.

Late last week, FBI agents arrested Karen “Gary” Kazaryan, a California man accused of hacking into the Facebook, Skype, and email accounts of over 350 female victims. After taking control of their accounts, Kazaryan searched through emails to find risqué photos, passwords, and the names of victims’ friends. He then used this information to extort target individuals, posting their photos on Facebook when they failed to comply with his demands. In the end, the FBI recovered almost 3,000 photos from the attacks, and the list of affected victims is still growing.

Undoubtedly, these women never dreamed their photos would be used in this way. Most of this content was likely sent to highly trusted partners or friends, or simply saved and left to sit in a long-forgotten email thread. It’s an unfortunate but highly underestimated fact that once sensitive information hits an Internet-connected device, it could be out there for good. That being said, no one deserves to be embarrassed or worse just for sharing a photo with a loved one.

Take Back the Web: Because No One Deserves to be Hacked

While the cause of the crime is always the perpetrator involved, there are ways to strengthen your defenses against a damaging data leak. This includes protecting yourself against unknown criminals like Kazaryan, but it also applies to more “lighthearted” situations – like a friend accidentally publishing a picture from your 21st birthday party on Facebook.

  1. Lock your lips. Never share passwords with anyone, including significant others and family members. If you absolutely need to share a password, create a unique code just for that account, and change it immediately if you suspect foul play.
  2. Lock your devices. Always use password protection on your phone and other mobile devices. While your best friend might not share that embarrassing photo, if your phone is lost or stolen, anyone who picks up the device could publish your information online.
  3. Love your delete button. If you do send personal or intimate messages, take the time to delete the content from your email account or mobile device as soon as possible. It only takes a second, and this process could save you years of reputation damage control.
  4. Share the love, not your information. Once you share private information with anyone, including those you love, that data is now completely out of your control – for better or for worse.


For more information and statistics from our Love, Relationships, and Technology survey, check out the full results here.

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