Internet Exposure Damages Actor’s Career in China

A young former idol learns a hard lesson about careless security when his hard drive’s contents are posted.

Singer Britney Spears’ downward spiral has captivated American pop media for months. But over the last month, the Chinese-speaking world has been riveted by the antics of a Canadian-born actor named Edison Chen.

In late January, photos depicting Chen in the company of several famous Hong Kong actresses and singers began to surface on the Internet. Let me put this in context: Imagine photos of, say, Matthew McConaughey popping up on the Internet, showing him in various states of undress and sexual acts with, say, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and Kirsten Dunst.

While starring roles in amateur porn have helped to launched the careers of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, such appearances in Hong Kong and the rest of China are career killers. And for all the bluster that surrounds U.S. paparazzi, they are simply minnows compared to the sharks that circle Hong Kong Island.

A few days after the photos appeared, the Hong Kong Police made their first arrest. However, the photos kept coming. The first batch of over 400 was soon followed by another few hundred. In all, 1,300 pictures made their way onto Web sites, BBS and certainly into thousands of e-mail boxes around the region.

Even over the Spring Festival holiday — also known as Chinese New Year — traditionally a family holiday, Chinese media was dominated by coverage of the scandal.Net Fallout

The effect of the photos’ release immediate, huge and devastating, and attempts to contain it were futile. Gillian Chung of the squeaky-clean singing duo Twins, a former girlfriend of Chen’s, took the initial brunt of the media attention, as she was depicted in the early photo sets. She and Chen were also under contract to the same Hong Kong conglomerate, Emperor Entertainment Group. Twins’ endorsement deals, including for a Spring Festival TV campaign for Hong Kong Disneyland, immediately came under review. It was particularly hard on Chung, who had been the focus of a nude photo scandal two years ago, when a long-lensed peeping Tom photographed her semi-nude as she changed costume at a concert in Malaysia.

Chen escaped the heat by flying to the U.S. and his native Canada, returning to Hong Kong late last week. At a news conference, he announced that he would step back from the Hong Kong entertainment industry indefinitely, although he said he would honor all of his existing commitments that list has certainly dwindled — at least five companies that use Chen in their ads have said they would not renew his contracts.

The vast majority of writing about the scandal has been in Chinese, but some English bloggers hip to the situation have used the medium to its fullest, producing some scintillating commentary from a media perspective a bit more saturated with celebrity sex scandals.

“Here’s a free piece of advice for you from your friendly neighborhood PR man: If you let a guy take digital nudie pix of you, sooner or later those pix are going to end up on the Internet. Not maybe. Not could be. Inevitably. The Internet is like a gravity well for nudity, and there is a 100 percent chance those pictures will end up there someday. Probably the week of your wedding,” wrote Beijing-based blogger ImageThief in a post titled “Let me tell ya about Edison Chen’s dirty photos.”

The entire incident could have been prevented if Chen had used a modicum of common sense in his approach to computer security. It wasn’t enough to be an easily recognizable media personality; he had to add to that a customized pink Apple laptop, on which he stored his handiwork. Last year, when said laptop needed repair, it went out for service with the photos on it. While both illegal and unethical, the tech who fixed it took the not-so-surprising action of copying the contents of Chen’s hard drive for his own personal perusal.

Take the blogger’s advice: “For people who must indulge in personal porn, Imagethief offers twowords: encrypted + files. It just ain’t that hard, even for troglodytes.”

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