Privacy and privates: What you should learn from Anthony Weiner

There's no such thing as safe sexting, but tons of people still send risque messages. What could go wrong?

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read
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Anthony Weiner attended the Democratic National Convention last month in Philadelphia.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mock not. You could be a Weiner too.

Former US Rep. Anthony Weiner made headlines again this week for sending naughty photos in electronic messages, but apparently a whole lot of us dance with danger by sexting.

A new study from Indiana University suggests that nearly a quarter of single people send intimate messages. (The study didn't look at married people's habits.) If you're a sexter, though, you should know there's pretty much nothing you can do to keep a recipient from showing your body parts to someone else.

Your privacy is no longer in your control after you hit "send."

Unlike these study participants, Weiner wasn't single when he sent his messages. (That may be changing soon. His wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, announced her separation from Weiner on Monday.)

Weiner clearly has a self-control problem, considering he has sexted multiple people even after he was forced to give up his seat in Congress in 2011, which followed the first brouhaha over his untoward digital habits.

But the Indiana study reveals that Weiner is in good company. Most people who sext don't reckon with the possible pitfalls. Or as the academic authors put it, we're experiencing a "contemporary struggle to reconcile digital eroticism with real-world consequences."

More than 73 percent of participants in the study said they'd be uncomfortable with the recipients showing off their sexts to a third party. Yet nearly 23 percent said they'd shown sexts they'd received to friends.

Yes, "friends" plural. More than three friends on average. And that's in addition to the possibility that your passion partner could have his or her phone stolen or hacked, with your intimate likeness inside.

Participants did tell the Indiana researchers they worry about the potential impact of sexting on their "social lives, careers, and psychosocial well-being."

Not that this stops them from sexting.