Sony Pictures is currently reeling from a devastating hack on its infrastructure that exposed a large amount of company data, including plans for new movies and e-mails exchanged amongst clients. Some of the information leaked as a result of the hack is innocuous enough — the e-mail Channing Tatum sent about 22 Jump Street’s box office success, for instance — while other information contains details about the company and individuals that can be viewed as an invasion of privacy. Several films, including the unreleased Annie rework and To Write Love On Her Arms, have also been made available for public download on file sharing sites as a result of the hack.
The Sony hack has received a great deal of attention because of the political ramifications involved. It was executed by a group called the “Guardians of Peace,” but investigators have indicated that the hack was either carried out in North Korea or by a team hired by North Korea’s government as a reaction to Seth Rogan and James Franco’s forthcoming feature film The Interview. The film’s plot revolves around Rogan and Franco’s attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. For releasing such a film — which North Korea somewhat justly views as a propagandized version of their country and, somewhat less justly, an “act of war” — the company is suffering unanticipated consequences.
North Korean politics aside, the hack is yet another reminder of the quickly fading notion of privacy in 21st century America. In the past couple years, hackers have infiltrated the data of huge companies like Adobe, released hundreds of nude celebrity photos, and exposed Snapchat photos that users believed to have been deleted. Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden all have leaked documents that help citizens have a better understanding of the opaque way the U.S. government operates.
It could be argued that a private company like Sony is different than a public entity like the U.S. government, but hacks against both have provided a level of transparency that simply didn’t exist throughout the 20th century. The victimization of innocent employees whose data has been exploited is nothing to praise, but the overall idea behind the exposure of corporate and bureaucratic secrets can be positive if its used to serve the public good. Leaking an e-mail in which an executive calls Kevin Hart a “whore” doesn’t necessarily benefit the public good, nor does a media outlet that capitalizes on covering that information. Reading a group of executives make racist remarks about President Obama's film preferences is a little more important for the world to see, but still crosses some moral boundary. Yet large-scale hacks such as this one have become so commonplace that none of this is exactly radical news, anyways.
In response to the leaks, Sony is once again displaying its ineptitude by attempting to silence any journalists reporting on the “stolen” data. The company sent out a letter to major news publications asking them to destroy any leaked data they may have acquired. This will backfire for a few reasons. The information has been made public, first as a result of a weak security system, and secondly as a result of media coverage and public interest. Once something has been made public online, it’s impossible to stop. Any legal battles would also potentially be a financial hit for a company that’s already struggling as a result of this hack.
The conclusion of that Sony e-mail reads as follows: “If you do not comply with this request, and the Stolen Information is used or disseminated by you in any manner, SPE will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination by you, including any damages or loss to SPE or others, iand including, but not limited to, any loss of value of intellectual property and trade secrets resulting from your actions.” Multiple publications, such as TechCrunch and Gawker, have come out in support of continued reporting on the leaks despite Sony’s threat of legal action. Sony itself needs to come to terms with the fact that all of that information is now public whether they want it to be or not, and no amount of lawsuits will reverse that. The company’s next best move is to re-examine its security efforts, make plans to prevent similar attacks, and consider how serious of a situation this one film has dragged them into.