It’s a funny word, “creepy.” It’s not easy to define, yet everybody thinks they’d know if they saw, heard, or read something that was “creepy.” In reality, it’s been a bad week to be “creepy” in the tech-connected world.
This week, Apple announced it was banning “creepy” software applications from its App Store, in an overhaul of review guidelines that anticipates the release of its iOS 8 and iPhone 6. “The new guidelines highlight the most common issues that cause apps to get rejected from the App Store,” writes Sophie Curtis, “ranging from inappropriate content to shoddy workmanship. … Apple has produced a separate list of the most common reasons for app rejections, in the name of transparency.” Those grounds for rejection include apps that exhibit crashes and obvious bugs, broken links, substandard user interfaces and a lack of “lasting value,” whatever that is supposed to mean.
The change makes more sense in light of the recent scandal involving the release last week of nude images of over 100 female celebrities. Apple claims that, while individual Apple accounts were breached, the iCloud and Find My iPhone services are secure and were not the focus of the “hacking” efforts that resulted in retrieval of the photos (which in some cases may even have been deleted by their owners). Apple is trying to affirm to its customers that its services are safe from the “creepy” efforts of anonymous cyber-thieves eager to expose famous people’s naughty bits.
“Individuals and companies increasingly use Internet-based ‘cloud’ storage for images and other data,” writes the Associated Press. “But such data can become more vulnerable once uploaded online. … It is unclear when and in what context the targeted actresses created the nude images. [Actress Mary Elizabeth] Winstead tweeted Sunday that the intimate pictures she took with her husband ‘in the privacy of our home’ had long been deleted. ‘I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this,’ she wrote.”
Not to be outdone, singer Cee Lo Green – relatively fresh from pleading no contest to providing ecstasy to a woman who says Green sexually assaulted her – tweeted his own “creepy” views on rape last weekend. The tweets themselves don’t make a lot of sense, but one gathers Mr. Green (no English major) holds some rather controversial views on the topic.
“Green’s conviction in the incident did not include sexual assault, but he decided it was time to speak out about rape,” writes the LAaist. “‘Women who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!’ This doesn’t take into account that women who are drugged before they’re raped actually don’t remember. He also tweeted disturbing and confusing things like ‘If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you consciously! so WITH Implies consent,’ and ‘When someone brakes on a home there is broken glass where is your plausible proof anyone was raped.’”
Green apparently briefly deleted, then reinstated his Twitter account, before offering a tepid apology on the microblogging site and permanently deleting all of the controversial tweets. The LAist (whose staff characterized Green’s views as “creepy”) says he concluded the affair by writing, “Let me 1st praise god for exoneration fairness & freedom! Secondly I sincerely apologize for my comments being taken so far out of context. … I only intended on a healthy exchange to help heal those who love me from the pain I had already caused from this. Please forgive me as it was your support that got me thru this to begin with. I’d never condone the harm of any women. Thank you.”
Cee Lo Green’s mild illiteracy aside, the “creepy factor” among apps and even websites is much debated of late. On the heels of all the hand-wringing over Facebook’s Messenger app and the permissions it requires (permissions that aren’t all that different from those required by most of the other applications on your smartphone), consumers are wondering if their software and the sites they visit are looking too deeply into who is using them. “Today we live in what former Vice President Al Gore calls a ‘stalker economy,’” writes John Sweeney, without a hint of irony in quoting the bloated carbon-credit confidence man who says he helped invent the Internet. Sweeney decries the “creepiness factor” in everything from a dating service app designed to “trifle with emotions” to location-based applications that help users identify nearby females (presumably for dating, not for kidnapping and assault).
While Sweeney goes on to point out, quite rightly, that “Big Data” can cross-reference information about social media users to manipulate and even control human behavior (he cites geo-tagging of tweets to predict crime and widespread exploitation of wireless phone data by government agencies), these issues are lost in the ongoing Internet-wide debate over what is “creepy.” Everywhere you turn, users are complaining about behavior, opinions, applications and venues they consider “creepy,” whether it is the existence of “Internet sewers” like 4chan, the rise of certain social media sites in other nations, a hypocrite liberal’s hatred for conservative politicians, or the increasing use of surveillance drones in populated areas.
Despite a lack of consensus on what “creepy” actually means, or when it is appropriate to apply such a term, we can all agree that we are uneasy. We are uneasy with technology that looks too deeply into our lives. We are uneasy with the sometimes disturbing opinions our neighbors harbor – opinions that social media convey only too easily and too immediately. We are uneasy that we are steadily losing control over our lives, our society, our government and our very bodies.
This is a process facilitated and chronicled by technology. The very devices and networks that keep us so informed of our neighbors’ opinions are the networks used to violate our privacy – yet it is also through these networks that word of such violations spreads. We are, quite honestly, damned whether we do or don’t – whether we embrace modern technology or shun it, whether we exploit Big Data or fall victim to it.
And that, quite frankly, is the creepiest reality of all.
Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.