Unsolicited Dick Pics Prompt Stupid, Unworkable Legislative Response From New York Lawmakers

from the I'm-sure-the-smart-guys-at-the-NYPD-can-figure-it-out dept

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic a trenchcoat-wearing lurker. Apple’s AirDrop app, which allows anyone to share files with anyone else using the app, has become the new way to send unsolicited dick pics.

Granted, there’s a bit of a perfect storm aspect that sets it apart from the ChatRoulettes of the world. Users of the app must allow messages from “Everyone” (rather than just people on their Contacts list) and be within Bluetooth range of the amateur photographer.

Of course, since it can conceivably happen to someone, it has happened to someone. And the New York Post was there to report on the easily-avoidable menace.

Britta Carlson, 28, was riding the uptown 6 train to a concert on July 27 when a mysterious message popped up on her smartphone.

“iPhone 1 would like to share a note with you,” read the note sent at 6:51 p.m. She hit “Accept” and was horrified by what she saw. “It was just a huge close-up picture of a disgusting penis,” said Carlson, of Bushwick, Brooklyn. The message was titled “Straw” and was sent by an anonymous stranger.

“It really felt like someone had actually just flashed me.”

Well, it’s a reasonable digital facsimile. The feeling is not misplaced. The response from legislators — who feel compelled to do something when people who have removed every barrier against digital flashing are digitally flashed — is, however, more than a little misplaced.

Let’s not blame the victim. Setting AirDrop to accept messages from “Everyone” is risky, but that doesn’t justify the distribution of up-pants photography no one has asked for. But let’s not jump into the legislation-mobile just because the New York Post found two New Yorkers in a city of 8 million who ended up with unwanted junk in their AirDrop trunks.

The New York Times found a couple more women who endured the same experience while riding public transportation to introduce its reporting on the introduction of a bill by New York City legislators.

The two women were victims of what has become known as cyber flashing, a growing trend of technology-enabled sexual harassment. It has become so common that two lawmakers introduced a City Council bill on Wednesday to explicitly make it a crime, punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail.

It’s an anti-penis pic bill targeting AirDrop that’s about as dumb as that string of words sounds. Here’s its champion, taking a tough anti-dick stance:

“In the old days, you had to have a long trench coat and good running shoes,” said Councilman Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island who is co-sponsoring the anti-flashing bill. “Technology has made it significantly easier to be a creep.”

Both of Borelli’s statements are substantially true, but it’s still unclear how the law will work or if it even can be made workable in practical terms. The bill would add “unsolicited intimate images” to the state’s existing harassment law, but nothing has been said by supporters of the bill that indicates they’ve really thought this through.

Sarah Edwards of mac4n6 has thought this through. While a certain amount of data is logged by Apple when AirDrop is used, it’s unlikely the digital detritus left behind on the victim’s phone will be of much use to law enforcement. Since the perp isn’t going to turn himself in, cops are left with only the complainant’s phone to work with. And Hein says there’s not enough there to work with.

The lack of attribution artifacts at this time (additional research pending) is going to make it very difficult to attribute AirDrop misuse. At best, if the cops are provided each device, they can pair the connections up – however this will require access to file system dumping services like Cellebrite CAS, GrayKey from GrayShift or performing a jailbreak to get the most accurate analysis. If the devices are named appropriately (ie: If Jen Mack’s iPhone was actually named ‘Jen Mack’s iPhone’) this may make an analysis easy, however I can see an instance where this can be abused to imitate someone else.

First, they’re going to need the perp’s phone. (And if they already have that, they likely can find the pic that was sent.) But how likely is that scenario? AirDrop pervs aren’t going to be turning themselves in and/or agreeing to forensic phone searches. Are cops going to get a warrant to handle a misdemeanor harassment charge involving a picture sent into the ether to be swept up by passing AirDrop users? It’s not like they’re dealing with targeted harassment which might make it easier to identify the person behind the lewd photo.

Is any judge going to OK a full-scale search for a photo used in a drive-by digital flashing? Sure, some might, but it seems unlikely law enforcement is going to put its best minds and expensive hacking tools to work to gather data that probably won’t even help them track down the sender.

And where do you go from there? You have a device ID you can tie to a person, but you still have to find that person to make the charge stick. Will the NYPD be wardriving with Stingrays to ring up petty harassment charges?

There are so many aspects of this that make zero sense. But what do you expect from reactionary lawmaking triggered by a New York Post article. The bill is so useless even one of its sponsors admits it’s little more than anti-dick pic PR:

Donovan J. Richards, a Democratic councilman from Queens and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was intended as a bipartisan effort to raise awareness — and to remove the sense of impunity that may embolden those sending the images.

So, to sum up, some people found out what happens when you turn your device into a public mailbox and lawmakers managed to turn some bad experiences into bad legislation. Of course, the blame ultimately lies with the jerkoffs who can’t keep their appendages to themselves. If people weren’t idiots, we wouldn’t need to discuss idiotic legislation quite so often. Idiots need to keep their private parts private and idiots with lawmaking power need to actually think about what they want done before they start doing something.

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Comments on “Unsolicited Dick Pics Prompt Stupid, Unworkable Legislative Response From New York Lawmakers”

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Joule Of The Nile (book proposal, Aswan High Dam) says:

Agreed: can't fix stupid when starts with APPLE.

Again problem is programmers who go along with marketing droids to add "features" that have drawbacks, and of course turned on by default.

Similarly, Google turning on tracking everywhere is main problem in a prior piece.

And the solution is — at very least — heavy fines. Even better would be to jail execs any time privacy is violated without explicit and repeated permission.

But that’s attacking the whole basis of "surveillance capitalism", which means that Techdirt won’t even consider it; never do anything except wring hands.

Bamboo Harvester says:

Re: Agreed: can't fix stupid when starts with APPLE.

I’m all for heavy fines every time my privacy is violated – by some company shoving ads onto every network device I own.

C’mon – she recognized it as a penis, so it’s safe to say she’s seen at least ONE of them before. Did she feel “flushed” every time in the past she saw one?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

‘ “It really felt like someone had actually just flashed me.” ‘

Question – Why does the world need to make a law to make it illegal to randomly offer a photo to people?
The sender did not grab your phone and press accept.
The sender did not grab your phone, take a pic of his junk and hand it back to you.

You pressed the button because it popped up & you dislike the result of your action so the entire world must change.
You didn’t bother to read the manual & decide perhaps I shouldn’t allow random people to reach out and wiggle their dick at me. 1 fscking setting, but we need a law…

One of the complaints I heard from the radio station that is running the poll on keeping ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ on the air was the parents calling in just wrecked because they were in the car with their kids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I really want to know what car maker is selling cars with a radio that only tunes to 1 station & can not be turned off.

‘ Will the NYPD be wardriving with Stingrays to ring up petty harassment charges? ‘

Tim, this is the NYPD, why bother with the question mark when you know they will.

Kids eat TidePods and OMG it is because they are colorful & the container didn’t need a combination & retinal id to open. Umm perhaps you should remember you have crotchfruit, that keeping them safe is your job & perhaps a high shelf would be a better place than in easy reach??

But then these people manage to leave their kids in the car every fscking year & now car makers are including alerts to remind you that something important is in the backseat… and that will end with a lawsuit when they miss the alert & sue the car maker for not doing more to protect their kid.

AirDrop – Best use ever… Goto an aquarium, load a picture of a clown fish, caption… have you seen my fucking kid?

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In this case, I absolutely blame the victim:
She set her phone to “accept from everyone” or didn’t turn it off. (I can’t believe Apple turns this on by default.)
She’s the one who accepted a message from a stranger that could literally be anyone in 200ft radius or more. Does anyone know the radius of AirDrop? She might not have even been in the same train as the person who sent the picture.
And she’s the one who opened the message and saw the picture.

She’s very lucky all she received was a naughty picture and something worse, such as spyware or ransomware or a keylogger or anything else than can be sent over AirDrop.
Would she open an attachment in a random e-mail sent to her? Then why open a random AirDrop message?

So she needs to explain why there needs to be a law to stop people from sending pictures to random people. While we’re at it, let’s stop spam e-mails with virus-filled attachments and telemarketers who call during dinner.

That Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

But she opened that email and the Prince told her she won bajillions.
And Oprah friended her on Facebook & wants to make all of her wishes come true…

People are so afraid that this time it’ll be different & useful. Phone chimes and you have to answer to your master right then.

People have made a game out of stacking the phones when out to dinner & the first one to grab theirs pays… they do this because they were told the phone was getting in the way of their lives… but they are making the phones the focus of the game…

They mock senior citizens for being so dumb and getting suckered in by telemarketers… yet a random popup appeared and without a 2nd thought she accepted it.

Major corporation gets hacked, the excuse is superhackers and we somehow give them a pass… even as we learn they never even tried to protect their systems. No one at equifax was taken to task because no one can stop hackers, but they didn’t even try according to the report… and equifax is still allowed to gobble up our data to profit while increasing the risks we all face.

Funny the only time we end up taking responsibility for things is when we didn’t do anything. Not her fault she opened the picture, but it would totally be her fault if someone took out 14 mortages & credit cards in her name using the data equifax leaked. She would have to pay to clean it up, despite she did nothing to cause it… and we accept it is somehow her responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

its champion, taking a tough anti-dick stance:

A tough stance or a hard stance?

On a more serious note, if Apple wanted to help fight this (and I see no reason they should want to, or should be expected to), they could do so by arranging that AirDrop always includes, and the receiver always records, all the potentially useful device identification data available on the sender’s phone: full metadata of the offending image (which, for sloppy perpetrators, will include date/time of picture, GPS coordinates); date/time of the AirDrop transfer, GPS coordinates of both phones at the time of the transfer, perpetrator’s phone serial number, IMEI, etc. Given the wealth of surveillance around cell phones, if the perpetrator’s phone dumped all that, the receiver’s phone recorded it, and you had some level of trust that the perpetrator’s phone was not falsifying the data (which only a jailbroken device would permit), you could trace the offense to the phone pretty readily, and for non-pre-paid phones, to the phone’s purchaser (but we should remember that the purchaser is not necessarily the person actually operating it when the offending image is sent). Personally, I agree with the editor: there are adequate technical solutions to mitigate victimization, so it’s not worth devoting another law or any law enforcement resources to pursuing this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The part I find interesting is that it seems that many of the exact same activists who demand harsher legal penalties against men who publicly “show their stuff” also demand total legalization for women who show their “stuff” in public. As demonstrated in the various “SlutWalk”-type demonstrations, with the idea that there are too many indecent women on the street for the police to arrest them all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You seem to have some deep seeded issues.

1) such demonstrations you mention aren’t limited to females doing it. Philly’s naked bike ride for example has plenty of men and women naked riding bikes.

2) and most importantly nothing you said has anything to do with the article. While I was making a silly (and probably not great at all) joke I’m sure similar indecent exposure from a female would have solicited a similar reaction from the person who kicked this off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Perhaps you are conflating two separate things?

I do not recall any indecently clothed people in the photos I saw of such slutwalks, or are you suggesting a change in the current laws regarding public decency relative to clothing. There are some who want to outlaw yoga pants .. are you one of these insane people?

Anonymous Coward says:

penis envy, #MeToo, and the ever-changing rules

I wonder just what the rules are these days regarding such ‘locker room’ type stuff. Take the phrase "dick measuring contest." I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard that said at work (as in "I don’t want to get into a […] with [another male] "). Yet this guy got fired for saying just that … because a female was on the other end of the chatline, even though she was (obviously) not the subject of his jab. And since this happened at the world’s biggest video game company, news of this "#MeToo" firing has spread far and wide.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: penis envy, etc.

" … its because all the girls wish they had a penis …"

off-topic Freudian nonsense.

So it didn’t even occur to you why a story about a proverbial "dick measuring contest" between two men might have (jokingly) been given the title "Penis Envy"?

Is more explanation needed?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: penis envy, etc.

I’m kind of the resident expert on dicks here… so yes you should try to dig out of your hole a bit more as Penis Envy has historically been used by men to explain away girls who like boy things.

It mainly serves as propaganda that having a penis makes you superior… and I’ve seen way more of them than most people and uhhh some of you should not be considering it superior.

As this story and discussion had fsckall to do with MeToo, I return to my original assessment of start your own blog to cover the shit you care about rather than attempt to hijack the comments here to attempt to make a point about your inability to read and comprehend.

Anonymous Coward says:

Any possible law prohibiting “offensive pictures” is not going to pass first-amendment scrutiny. But the victim missed a really good chance to get even. There’s the old story about a frat boy that was notorious for being offensive. So at a party he walked behind a chair in which a debutante was sitting, pulled out his member and laid it on her shoulder, saying “I bet you don’t even know what this is.”

She coolly replied, “It looks like a man’s penis, only smaller.”

Anonymous Coward says:

The bill is so useless even one of its sponsors admits

Donovan J. Richards, a Democratic councilman from Queens and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was intended … to remove the sense of impunity that may embolden those sending the images.

"Remove the sense of impunity" by pointing out that there’s literally nothing the authorities can do about it? Can’t see that going wrong.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

What a weird anthopolocial phenomenon.

The obvious answer is not to accept strange pictures, just as the obvious answer to private phones getting saturated with robocalls is not to accept calls from unknown numbers.*

I’ve received dickpics unsolicited when I was seeking persons-sans-penis on Craigslist, years ago. Since that’s not a typical vector by which to receive them, it raised the question of why so many guys would feel so driven to do so. It seems like some kind of weird subliminal compulsion that defies rationality.

At any rate, at risk of sounding like a one-trick pony, I think looking to understand and address the social phenomenon is going to do more to reduce our dickpics than mandating dickpic-blocking software, given that dickpic-senders will be all to eager to add an adversarial-input overlay to bypass AI scans.

`* Last I heard, caller ID is being spoofed so that callers from China can make a phone number look like a different number from a different area-code. That sounds like something that can be fixed.

That Guy says:


Or, and hear me out, instead of making a law, people don’t accept photos from strangers while riding public transportation in New York City? Seems pretty dang obvious to me. I mean, she did have her AirDrop set to “Everyone”, and she did click the “Accept” button when an offer of a photo from a stranger popped up. What does she want the law to do? What happened to personal responsibility?

This is the real world equivalent of that stranger in a trench coat walking up to you and saying, “Hey, wanna see something?” You saying “yes”, and then getting mad when you get flashed. Maybe don’t say yes???

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Or.........

Its dead guy, its dead.

Its not my fault I text and drove killing someone, the phone should have stopped me.
Its not my fault my children are fat, McDonalds toys did it.
Its not my fault if someone with deeper pockets can pay me.
Its not my fault a song on the radio offended me, the station should ban it.
Its not my fault I left the laundry soap where my kid could get to it, its because they are brightly coloured.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Or.........

I like the old idea..
That you are only responsible to your children, to get them to Survive childhood and being a Teen…
AND (forget school) raise them to be ADULTS, not children.

I feel like they are TRYING to breed out Self sufficiency, and responsibility..
If someone threatens you, or is about to Assault you, or your family..Who do you call??(not ghost busters)
Im not waiting to call, I wont expect others to call..
I will do what I need to do.

Call the cop and wonder if they can get there?? NO. in 5-10 minutes someone might be hurt..

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Self sufficiency, and responsibility

To be fair, we started breeding out self sufficiency and responsibility the day we started planting seeds in the ground.

Agriculture lead to specializations which lead to an advanced society where most people are far removed from farming, let alone hunting. We are dependent on society.

As such, we already have to learn how to function in our society, that hand icon = don’t cross and walking guy icon = okay to cross. And I’d caution that the more things we have to be vigilant about, the less time and energy we have for hunting, farming or clerking.

Though it’s worth saying raising your kids to work in a capitalist society only goes so far. Farmers can’t grow plants in sand, and hunters can’t survive when all the quarry is toxic.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Only if the receiver clicks Accept

Except that people allowed themselves to be rats in Skinners box.

They fear missing out, so any bleep on the phone must be looked at immediately… and don’t consider anything click the button quick!! You’ll miss it!

Telemarketing scammers send made up numbers from the same prefix they are dialing, and people answer the phone because of that… it must be a neighbor or someone they know. Despite knowing scammers are doing this, they still fear missing out somehow, so they have to answer.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Technology has made it significantly easier to be a creep.”

It’s also made it significantly easier to avoid those people without the law getting involved. Sorry to say, but this example:

“iPhone 1 would like to share a note with you,” read the note sent at 6:51 p.m. She hit “Accept” and was horrified by what she saw.”

This is an example of how you should a) not set your phone up to receive messages from random strangers and b) not accept them if they do pop up. Forget flashing, that could have been anything from someone trying to run a remote exploit on the phone in order to hijack it or steal personal information stored there to some one spamming you with sales links.

That the message you stupidly accepted in this case was a pervert is secondary. the correct answer is to learn not to accept random messages from strangers sat next to you and to set up some security on the device, using the tools that have already been supplied to you.

The tech is there to allow you to take responsibility. Passing a law to try and stop one specific misuse of that tech without affecting the other misuses is not going to help in any way.

Anonymous Coward says:

common phone names

Given that (back in the day, may have changed) Apple used to give your phone a name like “forename iPhone” by default then a chance someone sending a pic to an iPhone such as “Jane’s iPhone” (lets assume perp targeting women) could argue (well their lawyer could) that they have an intimate friend called Jane, who has iPhone of that name and they thought they were sending it to them.
I’m sure, for a suitable fee, a less than ethical lawyer could wheel out a person claiming to be the “intimate friend” Jane.

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