There is a Difference Between Victim Blaming and Valid Criticism

There is a term that is quickly losing any value due to dilution: victim blaming. Victim blaming, once used to point out a valid criticism against those who blamed victims of crimes for said crimes happening, is becoming little more than a phrase uttered to put a person who has been victimized above any form of criticism. I am, of course, referring to the nude phones that were leaked of several celebrities (what I can say, it’s the hot topic of the week and intersects with my computer science profession). As a computer scientist who has a strong interest in security I have been using these leaks as a platform to explain both the risks of using online storage services and the measures individuals can take to mitigate those risks. Not surprisingly I’ve been getting accused of victim blaming.

A thin line exists between victim blaming and valid criticism but it’s important line. To better understand this line let’s consider an all too common scenario. Most people, as far as I know, who live outside of rural communities make a habit of locking their vehicle doors when they are going to be away from it for a period of time. Locking your vehicle doors reduces the risk of a thief breaking into it. But many people also leave valuable stuff inside of their vehicle in plain sight. What this does is offset the risk of breaking into a vehicle for unknown gain with knowledge that breaking into a vehicle will result in a sizable gain. In other words the risk/reward calculation changed from increased risk for no potential reward to increased risk with reward. The vehicle owner isn’t at fault for the thief breaking into his or her vehicle but leaving valuables in plain sight wasn’t smart.

iCloud-gate, or whatever snazzy fucking name with “-gate” postfixed to it that you want to use, is similar to the vehicle analogy. Uploading unencrypted data to an online storage service is similar to leaving valuables inside of your vehicle in plain sight. In both instances you’re advertising the reward so a potential thief can more accurately make a risk/reward calculation. That thief may be a malicious hacker or they may be a system administrator at Apple. Either way giving them more information is not a good idea. Pointing this out isn’t victim blaming, it’s valid criticism.

It’s the difference between blaming a woman for being raped and telling a woman “It’s Dangerous to go alone! Take this.” and handing her a .45 pistol. The former is an accusation of fault and the latter attempt to help her mitigate risk. The difference is admittedly thin but also important.