First Bluesnarfing, now Apple’s sexist Airdrop ‘dick pics’

By Kitty Knowles 16 August 2017
Pic: CreativeCommons/Andrés Aguiluz

Don't let strangers use sex as a weapon.

No, Bluesnarfing isn’t some niche Smurf sex fetish.

To those under 30, Bluesnarfing came with the arrival of Bluetooth – a technology that, in its early years, made it relatively easy for hackers to get into your phone.

Typically Bluesnarfers would prey on those who unwittingly left their Bluetooth on, using it to steal and share private data.

That includes (you guessed it) people’s private booty shots.

It was an in-built back door that made it easy for miscreants to use sex as a weapon.

Apple’s Airdrop sexism

Today sex is still being used to intimidate and shame – with celebrities and regular folk alike subjected to email leaks, blackmail and revenge porn.

Fortunately your smartphone now explicitly requires you to ‘pair’ with a device to share data via Bluetooth. You must give your consent. Hacks are obviously not impossible, but the back door is pretty firmly wedged shut.

But Apple – and society – haven’t learned from history, and in 2017 there’s a new form of sexual harassment taking place.

Women today are becoming victims of ‘cyberflashing’, a crime that can take place when you leave Apple’s Airdrop tool switched on.

What’s going on?

Most iPhone or Mac users will know that AirDrop lets you send photos, videos and documents over WiFi. But in the age of the ‘dick pic’ women are now increasingly being sent unsolicited penis photos.

This isn’t sending a kinky snap to another consenting adult. We’re talking about random creepy guys on the bus, in the club, or on the street, digitally forcing their junk on you in an uninvited and intimidating way.

If you’re a victim you receive a notification on your phone, which comes with preview photo. You have to see it in order to go about declining or deleting or reporting it.

And you’ll need to keep it if you want to report it.

A crime

Make no mistake so-called ‘cyber-flashing’ is a sexual offence – a crime that sees perpetrators end up on the sex offenders register.

And in recent weeks representatives from Transport for London (TfL), British Transport Police (BTP) and the Met have called on victims to report any incidents.

“If it happens to you, our advice would be to remain calm, retain the image and report the matter to police as soon as possible,” Kate Forsyth, detective chief inspector for the BTP, told HuffPost.

It might not sound appealing, but if you keep the image request on your phone, police can use that data to trace the suspects’ device.

Shut the front door

Today the harsh truth is, we all need to be smart when it comes to keeping our digital worlds safe.

Yes, companies have a responsibility to look after their users, and creeps certainly shouldn’t send abusive images in the first place – but there’s really only one way to avoid unwanted explicit images: to switch Airdrop access off when you’re not using it, just like you keep your front door locked when you’re not walking through it.

You’ll want to ensure that, as a rule, Airdrop is never left on ‘Everyone’, but instead set to ‘Contacts Only’ (where people you know can send you photos) or ‘No one’ (which stops all requests point blank).

Arguably, there may well be times you need to share files with strangers (unsaved work colleagues, for example), but make sure you switch your settings back after.

We know technology makes it easier share our lives – which is great. But it’s vital we remember that the tools many benefit from come with their own risks and flaws.

Bluesnarfing might have passed, but Airdrop abuse is happening now, and there will undoubtedly be new kit that’s adopted for malign purposes in the future.

In technology, the idea of ‘when one door shuts, another one opens’ is true, but not always in a good way.

Just like you would at home, make sure you do what you can to keep your front door firmly shut.