The alarming revelations that many A-list celebrities were hacked and their intimate nude pictures circulated on the Internet will spur debate about privacy, but the problem actually exists closer to home: In your local high school.
Today, the conversation is about Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, but there are thousands of 17-year-old girls whose private pictures are circulated in their high schools. In some cases, the girls were naïve and sent them to their boyfriends, who ended up trading them with classmates like baseball cards. In other cases, they are the victims of hacking.
Take the case of William Michael Cook, a Georgia teen who last year duped dozens of young girls by posing as a photography agency. He hacked into the computers of girls -- some as young as 14 -- stole images and uploaded them to a pornography site. Once circulated, it's next-to-impossible to track them down and erase them.
However they get them, every school has become a market and the commodity is a private intimate picture of female classmates. It raises troubling legal, moral and societal questions about respect.
And it's not just teenagers. A gay couple had their wedding photo used in an anti-gay marriage mailer. A picture of an American family posted on Facebook gets used for a grocery store advertisement in the Czech Republic. And a baker in Minnesota lamented that 8 to 10 times a month, she catches a person stealing her Instagram photos of her cake designs.
Whether it's a celebrity, a small business owner or an unsuspecting high school sophomore, what all this amounts to is content abuse, and it's an issue that we need to desperately discuss as a society. What was once a problem for a small group of content creators -- movie studios and record companies -- is now a pain point for all of us. In a digital era where stealing movies or music is met with a shrug, violating the privacy of classmates is just the next logical step.
And it threatens to quell one of the most profound consequences of social media: the ability for millions of us to express ourselves creatively and in many cases profit from that creativity.
As parents -- I have three girls and two boys, all between the ages of 19 and 11 -- we need to reinforce the importance of our children not putting themselves in a position where they can be taken advantage of or succumb to the peer pressure of joining into a market of exploitation.
But more broadly, we have to consider what should be the educational and legal response to content abuse. As a society, we're now seeing the fallout from turning the other cheek to this so-called "victimless crime." A growing number of teens consider it acceptable to share personal, private photos with large audiences and without permission. A generation is increasingly unworried about the pain that comes from a violation of another teen's privacy, instead seeing it as an opportunity to benefit themselves -- either socially or sometimes even financially -- with no concern about potential penalties.
To create a culture of respect for others content, we have to start by raising awareness about the risks and dangers.
The sad story of Angie Varona is a cautionary tale. In 2011, the teen was a victim of a hacking of her Photobucket account, which led to widespread circulation of private, intimate pictures of her across porn sites. A Google search found 63,000 images purportedly of her. "No one ever thinks that, 'yeah, I'm going to take these pictures and it's going to end up all over the Internet,' " she lamented.
As bad as it is for Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and the other celebrities who just got hacked, they are used to the unwanted attention that comes with being a celebrity. They have lawyers and publicists who can help them through this terrible ordeal.
But for the Angie Varonas of the world whose "celebrity" was unwanted, it ruins their life. As a society, we have to recognize that content abuse won't get better until we address it head on. It's time for parents, schools and our policymakers to take this issue seriously.