Should We Condone ‘Hactivism’?

Since the subject of hacking has come up recently in lecture, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss how some people have used their talents in a way that has us questioning how we think about the word “hacker”. In the last few years we’ve seen an increase in hackers who use their computer skills to expose corruption and to make social commentary on politics, social media, and privacy. One instance, which happened not too long ago, is the Steubenville rape case, where the hack expert group Anonymous leaked videos, texts, and emails, that showed a massive cover up was taking place to protect high school football players accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The work by the hackers eventually led to the charging of the students’ and adults in the situation.

Another well-known hactivist group are a duo based in Milan. Paolo Cirio & Alessandro Ludovico are hackers who call themselves ‘artists’; mainly to get around the legal issues their work entails. In an extremely creative use of hack skill, Cirio developed a schema known as Google Will Eat Itself. The goal of this project was to buy shares of Google and distribute it to the public using Google’s own money. They accomplished this by using bots to click on Google advertisements on a network of hidden websites. They were apparently able to make over $400,000. Another undertaking was the writing of a code and creation of an algorithm that would preview Amazon books repeatedly enough to have previewed a sufficient amount of material to read the entire book. They were then able to put the book together in its entirety and subsequently make the books available to the public. The pair also created face-to-Facebook which scraped Facebook data of a million users and categorized them and then automatically adds them to a custom online dating website. They did this as social commentary on the lack of privacy people who use sites like Facebook have. Another interesting thing the duo did was protest Google street-view by creating real-life replicas of people captured by the cameras. They justified their work by saying that the use of street view was incredibly invasive, and would in essence canonize the people without their permission.

So the questions are should we support hactivists like Anonymous and Cirio & Ludovico? Is their work illegal based on The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act? Would you personally consider their work illegal? Do you think their actions are morally right/wrong according to the rules we learned for judging morally right actions?

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