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‘Hackers leaked intimate photos after my laptop was stolen’

Via Steven McIntosh, Entertainment reporter

BBC Patricia FranquesaBBC

When hackers threatened to leak a filmmaker’s nude photos stored on her stolen laptop, she turned her camera on herself to record her ordeal.

Spanish director Patricia Franquesa was sitting in a cafe in Madrid when a thief took her laptop in 2019.

Three months later, the hacker contacted her demanding money, threatening to release intimate photos she had saved on her computer if she did not pay.

Franquesa didn’t know for sure – and still doesn’t know – whether the person trying to blackmail her was the same person who stole the laptop.

But in a situation where the victim had little control, Franquesa was able to capture the entire episode on film from her perspective as it unfolded.

The result is My Sextortion Diary, which was recently screened at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival.

“Making documentaries was my way of embracing control and power,” Franquesa told BBC News. “It’s my way of protecting myself, not making myself a victim and distracting myself, it’s like building a bubble.”

The distance that filmmaking provided was valuable and also helped her process what was going on. “Of course it’s still me, but I need to separate myself. I am talking about ‘Pati’, but there is Pati in the character and Pati is the director.”

She joked that it was appropriate that such a challenge “happen to a documentarian, so this was the perfect opportunity to make it happen”. [the cameras] around”.

Getty Images Man using laptopbeautiful images

Hackers threaten to leak nude images stored on Franquesa’s laptop after stealing it from a cafe in Madrid

Taking, storing and sending nude photos is completely normal for an entire generation that has grown up with the Internet.

But it opens up a whole world of risks that people born in previous decades have never had to face.

“My dad took pictures of my mom in a swimsuit that was maybe a little see-through,” Franquesa smiles, recalling an era that seemed tame by comparison. “But since the digital world came to us, it’s the new way we have intimacy.”

In her case, the hackers showed how serious they were by leaking some images to her friends, family and colleagues, whom they found through the above contacts. her social network.

But Franquesa made some progress as the film progressed. Police wrote to her to tell her they had made an arrest after reviewing CCTV footage from the cafe – footage which she eventually got hold of herself and included in the film.

It shows three men holding a laptop, their faces blurred for filming, working together from different positions in the cafe.

But despite the police investigation progressing, hackers continued their blackmail efforts against her.

Exhausted, out of options and refusing to pay, Franquesa finally decided to upload the images to her own social network – a terrible last resort, but one that stripped the hacker of her power.

“It was so hard, I cried,” she recalls. “It feels like the last moment of a marathon. I didn’t want to post pictures, I was hoping and waiting for this person to stop, but you see he didn’t stop so I had nothing left to do.”

Patricia Franquesa Stills from my Sextortion DiaryPatricia Franquesa

Much of the film was shot using a smartphone’s aspect ratio as Franquesa recorded her experience

However, making hackers stop is not her only motivation. “I had to say, ‘hey guys, this hacker has these pictures, he’s using my contacts, help me’.”

That shifts the balance of power somewhat, and means Franquesa can enlist his friends and followers to help piece together a picture of hackers and their behavior.

“This changes the formula,” she said. “I want my contacts to let me know when they receive the photos, because then I will have more evidence to take to the police and continue the investigation.

“It was embarrassing,” she reflected. “Other people’s attempts to shame me failed because I was in possession of my own photos. And then it stopped, magically.”

The fact that the hacker stopped communicating shortly after Franquesa uploaded the images suggests someone was following her when she made her account private after the first blackmail – but she still doesn’t know who.

The documentary did well at the festivals it played at. Mark Adams of Business Doc Europe described it is “a powerful and provocative real-life story that reflects the unfortunate reality of those forced to face the horrific behavior of unscrupulous hackers”.

‘Bittersweet ending’

The man who stole the laptop was eventually jailed. But for Franquesa, the primary concern was not the laptop but how her own data was then used against her.

“He was sentenced to 10 months in prison just for stealing a computer,” she explained. And I tried, in the judge’s sentence, to say that he was involved in possible extortion.”

Franquesa’s focus has since shifted to raising awareness of what happened – and questioning how these criminal networks operate.

“I already called the police, man [who stole the laptop] know what he did with the computer. And the police told me the computer wouldn’t be recovered, and I said, ‘I know that, but what are they doing with the stolen devices?’

“Because now there are a lot of mafias. In Spain, you steal devices and sell them, then they go to people who hack devices and get data, find everything and start extorting money. I want understand what that system is.”

She pointed out: “The issue is not just about justice in my case, because it was almost over for me, but for the police to understand what is happening in cases like this. What is the system of these mafia gangs? If I were a police officer, I would be extremely curious.”

Patricia Franquesa Stills from my Sextortion DiaryPatricia Franquesa

Franquesa returns to her own daily life after her laptop is stolen

The biggest challenge was how to create something cinematic from very few ingredients. Franquesa can only record her own side of the story, and most developments occur through written communication – emails from hackers, letters from the police, or messages between Franquesa and her friends.

The director “didn’t see that as a limitation” because the film’s aim was to be a “digital diary”.

The hackers are represented by digitally altered female voices, while text conversations are represented by digital speech bubbles that mimic WhatsApp threads.

But “it’s also this form of storytelling that doesn’t allow the film to overstay its welcome, coming out at a tense time,” HyperReal Film Club’s Blake Williams notes.

“My Sextortion Diaries is always engaging and finds a way to keep the story moving despite its unique approach.”

The documentary ends before the verdict, because Franquesa laughs, “We need to film in time for South by Southwest!” – film festival screening in March. She said that some new documents will now be added at the end after conviction.

Franquesa ultimately hopes the film will help bring about change, because she feels the law is not changing fast enough to keep up with criminal behavior.

“I want to scream that this isn’t working, our data laws. The systems that should protect us are working too slowly. There’s an issue here about what protections we have in place.

“The only satisfying thing about this case is that now we are talking about it, the ending of the movie is bittersweet, Pati’s success is making movies but hackers and justice are not complete.”

“I hope my case is used to make sense,” she concluded [criminals] doing, I’m putting myself first so they can study my case and help others.”


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