From Mitt Romney to tech/media columnists like Bryan Bishop at The Verge, a rising chorus of advice for Sony Pictures is to release the controversial film The Interview online. “Don’t cave, fight: release The Interview free online globally,” tweets Romney, the former presidential candidate. Sony has already pulled The Interview from a scheduled Christmas Day release, after threats of violence made showing it in theaters impractical. Bishop says those threats shouldn’t stop Sony from distributing its film, contending that the world no longer relies on the multiplex: “What Sony should really do is…throw the movie up on iTunes and Amazon. Get crazy and give Crackle a shot.”
The release-it-now chorus believes an online release would make Sony look good. It could make the company look like it’s standing up to the threats–and also win Sony some much needed good will. But the next logical step for hackers then is to threaten to follow the movie–to track the downloads, to see who’s watching it, and to make every downloader of The Interview feel that by downloading the film they may be putting themselves or their families in danger. The hackers could try to attack home computers that were tracked as having downloaded The Interview, or worse. This is not simply fear mongering or paranoia. If the hackers really want to stop the film from being seen, even embraced (it’s already an unlikely symbol of free speech), then the next logical step is to take their intimidation from the theaters to people’s devices. They may not be able to do it, but then again hackers have breached the world’s biggest banks, biggest retailers, and biggest entertainment companies. If they can get your social security number from Target, they may be able to find out if you downloaded The Interview. The bigger point is this: Until online security is improved immensely, these kinds of threats will continue to filter down from relatively faceless corporations directly to the individuals that interact with those corporations. Information needs to be secure.