Earlier this week, reports came that networking app Telegram was being used as a springboard for circulating fake nude images of unsuspecting women online. Photographs are allegedly being uploaded on a deepfake bots used on the app to convert them into computer-generated and fake nude images through the DeepNude software. Targeted women who are unaware of these images are anywhere upward of 680,000.
Sensity, a visual threat intelligence company headquartered in Amsterdam, has estimated that the network, including as many as 101,080 members, is crowded 70 percent by users in Russia and Europe. But this is no reason for Indian women to breathe easy because the latest reports claim that a "good chunk of bots users belongs to India," and so our privacy too is jeopardised. The Bombay High Court has asked the government to look into the matter, reports Zee News.
Telegram As A Cesspool Of Illegal Activity
This should be alarming news for every woman connected to the internet, and even those who're offline but have ever had their pictures taken on a phone. Because in the 21st century, it seems like we're having to pay even higher prices for being women. Was it not enough for our safety to be compromised both within our homes and in the outside world, that now we're even vulnerable online? Are multi-million companies minting money off our bodies? Can women trust social media platforms in the absence of adequate policies?
Telegram has always been a controversial app as far as its privacy policies are concerned, ever since its inception in 2013. It's a messaging app steeped in secrecy with tight encryption in place. While that may sound safe with regard to user exchanges and private chats, Telegram has inadvertently become a cesspool of all sorts of illegal activities. Under the shroud of its "secret chats" feature, anti-social forces have been reported to have harboured terrorist propaganda, misinformation, and radicalism.
In fact, many authorities have sought a ban on the use of this app, including the High Court of Kerala in India, when in 2019, Telegram was "facilitating the circulation of child abuse videos and communication by terrorists."
How Safe Is Social Media For Women?
Why the unchecked spread of apps such as these is potentially dangerous for women is because it is encashing our bodies at the cost of objectifying us. As soon as a woman joins any social media network, she runs the risk of receiving rape threats, unsolicited dick pics, and abusive messages. Because there are a hundred ways for trolls and harassers to ensure anonymity online. How many women can say they have inboxes empty of "hieee deer" and "lookin cute gal" messages from strangers?
Add to this another layer of protection warranted by Telegram, which leaves targeted women out of the loop entirely, rendering us clueless as to the whereabouts and usage of our pictures. These doctored nudes may well be uploaded to porn sites, clickbait ads, and even sold illegally. How powerless are we against virtual crime?
Indian law under the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code does offer remedies to seek relief in case of such crimes. But how does one begin to approach them if we're in the dark about our photos even having leaked or used somewhere? As their user base expands, the onus of privacy lies on big social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook or Telegram. In the meantime, it would do well for us to exercise our legal rights as and when we see cyber law being flouted.
Views expressed are the author's own.