iPhone AirDrop Provides Opportunities for Virtual Sexual Harassment

iPhone AirDrop Provides Opportunities for Virtual Sexual Harassment

Most sexual harassment consists of the old-fashioned kind, with the harasser making unwanted physical contact, using demeaning terms or quid pro quo demands for sex in return for some type of benefit.

That’s not the case with iPhone’s AirDrop app, which allows total strangers to send harassing photos or messages. That was obviously not the intent of the app’s developers. AirDrop is meant to enable users to share files and photos quickly and anonymously – but sexual harassers like to take advantage of any new technology to torment their prey. Only users who are nearby can send an AirDrop.

How AirDrop Works

Using Bluetooth, AirDrop creates a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network between devices. Each device forms a firewall around the connection, and all files are encrypted. It works on most Apple products (iPhone, iPads, and Macs). There’s no disclosure of identifying information such a phone number or email address. Instead, files or photos come from sources listed as “iPhone 9” or something similar unless someone has gone in and personalized their name/ID.

Maybe the app developer didn’t intend to create a perfect tool for close contact sexual harassment, but that is increasingly the result. It particularly appeals to flashers, who no longer have to expose themselves in a public place. They’re still in a “public place” but can send photos of their genitals to unsuspecting iPhone users nearby. The activity has coined a new term: Cyberflashing.

Public Transportation

So, if someone wanted to sexually harass a stranger who is within 300 feet of them, what’s the best place to do it? Public transportation – subways and trains – are involved to a great degree. New York City’s subway system is a prime example.

A New York Post article states that women traveling the subway are discovering “creepy men are using the iPhone AirDrop app to send them photos of their privates while on the same train.” The first known incidents of AirDrop harassment started in 2015 on the London Tube.

While these incidents may prove deeply disturbing to the AirDrop recipients, most of them go unreported.

That’s likely because the victim doesn’t believe the incident is serious enough to notify the police, or they aren’t sure where to report it. A victim can save the image and give it to the police, but finding the harasser involves matching that image to the image on his phone -- a long and complicated process for overstretched law enforcement officials.

In addition, most victims want to get rid of the offensive images immediately, rather than store them on their phones.

Perhaps the worst effect of these AirDrop images or messages isn’t the image or message itself, but the knowledge that someone very close by is sending them. What if the person follows the victim once they get off the subway or train? That fear can make receipt of an unwanted AirDrop especially traumatic. For victims of sexual assault, an AirDrop can bring the whole experience back.

Avoiding Unwanted AirDrop Photos and Messages

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to ensure that you can’t receive nasty AirDrop photos and messages. Keep your AirDrop setting on “Contacts Only” or “Receiving Off,” not on “Everyone.”

Many people forget to switch their settings off “Everyone”, and others may not realize it is turned on. For some people, having to make these changes is an inconvenience, but it’s better than having to deal with someone’s sick fantasies.

If you have been subjected to improper sexual conduct in or out of the workplace, contact our sexual harassment lawyers at the Whistleblower Law Group today. We can be reached by phone at 877.858.8018, by email at [hidden email].

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