How to Avoid Getting Cyber Flashed on AirDrop

Lately, Australian online safety experts have warned about a rise in a new inappropriate digital trend known as cyber flashing. It involves using Apple’s AirDrop function to share files and send unwanted and improper photos and other content to unsuspecting commuters. The AirDrop function faces enough criticism already, but this latest development allows anyone in range of your iPhone to send you unsolicited pornographic and offensive images. This trend is set to double this year, unfortunately, and will leave many women feeling threatened.

How do you protect yourself? The solution is simple, however, many aren’t aware of it because, by default, Apple’s AirDrop setting is set to public mode. To avoid any unwanted files being sent to your phone set your AirDrop setting to private, which will allow only people on your contact list to send you files, or if you prefer you can even turn it off completely. It isn’t the first time AirDrop has caused controversy, however. As early as May, election material promoting Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party was being sent to unsuspecting commuters on a busy Melbourne train.

If you do become a victim of cyber flashing, the first thing you should do is immediately report the incident. In their story of a cyber flashing incident in Melbourne, the Sydney Morning Herald encouraged anyone who receives unsolicited images to report them to the police. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country have specialised cyber divisions that deal with these kinds of incidents, and your evidence can help them go after offenders.

One way of doing this is through electronic discovery or eDiscovery, which allows for electronic data to be located and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in court. This data includes anything from text to databases, audio files, and images, which law enforcement agencies and lawyers can use for prosecution. Cyber flashing and other similar crimes is why Special Counsel considers eDiscovery as one of the vital tech trends that are reshaping the legal industry. And a large reason for this is the prevalence of smartphones in our society. In this sense, cyber flashing constitutes a crime, as using a carriage service to harass, cause offence or menace is against the law. The sooner you report an incident, the more chance there is that something could be done about it.

Cyber flashing has essentially become sexual harassment for the digital age. Cyber flashing is a form of technology-facilitated sexual violence that fits within the constraints of image-based abuse. Serious harm can come to victims and amplify the impacts of a lifetime of these experiences. Not surprisingly, there are new demands for legal responses and new regulatory frameworks to specifically address new emerging forms of digital sexual harassment.

For now, however, with the release of Apple’s iOS 13 earlier this year, and subsequent updates, Apple has said that it has updated the image preview in AirDrop and it will suppress any images sent by unknown senders. While this is only a Band-Aid solution to a symptom, a wider and more concerted effort is required by law enforcement and regulators to address the bigger problem of cyber bullying and digital sexual harassment.