For more on this story, check out this episode of BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer podcast.
For most of us, the mere idea of handing over our smartphone to another person, or letting someone peep into our email inbox, probably induces a sort of clammy panic and moaning dread. But for a few of us, at least, that moment of vulnerability is a thrill. For these people (mostly men), losing control of their digital life is the ultimate turn-on. They get off on surrendering their systems to digital dominatrixes who offer the thrill of being hacked, of being owned, without the normal repercussions.
"I don't think it's necessarily the ultimate form of submission, but a modern form for the digital age," explained a dominatrix who goes by @TheDataDomme on Twitter, whose newest service she offers is installing spycam software in a client's computer so he feels like he's being watched. "It's very different from the traditional view of BDSM (leather whips etc.) and is not a physical submission or abuse. But it is a submission of control all the same ... it's a feeling of helplessness most are looking for."
This hacking role-play is typically a subset of financial domination, or “findom,” which is basically when one person gives another control of their finances as a form of humiliation. On Twitter, you can find people tweeting hashtags like #walletrape and #paypig or using slang like “rinsing” (as in the way you’d describe someone losing in the stock market as getting rinsed). One findom who goes by Goddess Jasmine explained the allure to me over email: “my most famous line is: The sexiest thing about a man is the bulge in his wallet.”
For findoms, the exchange can be relatively lucrative. Broadly interviewed a woman who claims to make between $500 to $5,000 a day with computer takeovers; other people told me they knew of findoms who have bought houses purely from donations from men. However, one woman who goes by Goddess Kendra, an 18-year-old who has been doing this since October, told me, “it’s not about the money.” For her it’s the thrill. Goddess Kendra is blonde and attractive, and when she tweeted to her followers that I planned to interview her, I was flooded with DMs from fans who urged me to submit to her. (She herself also sent me DMs telling me I should submit to her. I respectfully declined.)
Had I given in, here’s what I might have encountered. To feel truly powerless, submissives will allow a findom to take over their computer, typically using software like TeamViewer. TeamViewer is fairly boring remote access business software meant for, say, a salesperson to lead a team through a training exercise. But because you can use it to give a remote person temporary access to your computer, it makes for a perfect hacking role-play solution. It lets you feel owned without being actually pwned.
Why would anyone get off on having someone else access their computer? “I think they like the thrill of having a woman have complete power over their private information,” a findom who wishes to remain anonymous explained to me. “With one click of a mouse you can access emails, photos, bank accounts, PayPal. They are literally just watching as you take their money right in front of their eyes, and there's nothing they can do about it.” And there’s more to it than the money. “I've gone through photo albums and emails and his social media messages and they like the thrill of threatened blackmail and exposure,” she explains.
But while the anonymous findom says she may threaten to make his embarrassing private photos public, she won’t actually go through with it. It’s just role-playing of hacking, with all the terrible feelings of anxiety and dread, and none of the lasting consequences. You don’t have to lock down your credit, or get a new social security number.
One Twitter findom, @MissNycbitch, says men love it when she takes over their computers with TeamViewer. “They beg me to destroy them, take their photos, their finances, exploit them. It's their fantasy to be destroyed by a hot and powerful woman,” she explained over Twitter DM. “They have this desire or fantasy to be wrecked by a woman. Destroyed financially… They worship powerful women. So if I have taken over their personal computer, that is the ultimate sign of power.” She also explains that it is always consensual, and the “hacking” aspect is merely role-play, not actually harmful.
Even though the men want to participate in this, as you might expect, a desire to give away your money as a way of sexual relief can be problematic. One man who goes by @oinkpiggieoink told me that last year he made over $75,000 but saw none of it, since he gave so much away to findoms. “All of this can actually be very dangerous for the slave but it is a drug, an addiction. Brain washing and rewiring if you will. I have had a couple of Goddesses I happened to serve for a decent amount of time that I formed trusting bonds with that I gave in to and gave access to my twitter, email, bank account login, femdom clip studios logins, things like that,” he explained. “I often find myself in regret when they have put me into an almost hypnotic mindless state, and cause me to struggle with bills occasionally. But the rush and the need to please and be used always overrides it in the end.”
Another findom submissive named Joshua says he feels the same addictive rush, but that it’s harmless. “The rush of spending money on beautiful women is like a high I've never experienced before. People say I'm getting taken advantage of but that's not true. I believe women are superior and men should always make a woman he is interested in happy no matter what. I can afford it. So why not?”
At their core, financial domination and computer takeovers are the same as the more familiar 50 Shades of Grey type of sexuality that in the year 2016 isn't particularly surprising, or even unusual. They share the same concepts of submission and trust, just perhaps with a higher price tag.
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.