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Man accused of sending obscene image to stranger on subway in Japan via AirDrop


FUKUOKA -- A man who allegedly sent a nude female image to a stranger on a subway train via Apple's "AirDrop" file-sharing service is accused of violating a prefectural ordinance, police said on Aug. 20.

Fukuoka Prefectural Police's Sawara Police Station sent papers to local prosecutors accusing a 37-year-old company employee from Fukuoka's Nishi Ward in southwestern Japan of violating a prefectural ordinance for public nuisance prevention.

Similar harassment cases using AirDrop, which is installed on Apple's iPhone, iPad and other devices, have been reported nationwide, prompting prefectural police to call on people to be on their guard against such attacks.

The man specifically stands accused of sending the obscene image to a smartphone of a 34-year-old male passenger nearby on a subway train that was running in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward at around 8:45 p.m. on July 5.

"I wanted to see how the recipient would react to the image," the man was quoted as telling investigators as he admitted to the allegations against him.

AirDrop enables users to share photographs, videos, contact data and other files with people within an approximately 9-meter radius. While users can change the settings to exchange data only with people on their contact lists, many people keep the settings open so they can exchange contact information with people new to them and for other use. Even though users can refuse to accept images that were sent to their gadgets, the images are displayed on the operation screen before they refuse to accept them.

The victim in the Fukuoka subway case initially declined to accept the image sent to his smartphone, but after the harasser sent him the image for a second time, the victim ended up accepting it in order to secure evidence. He then trailed a suspicious-looking man who was using an iPhone nearby and called the police.

According to prefectural police, cases of sexual harassment using AirDrop have also occurred in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan. In many cases, women were targeted by strangers who sought to enjoy the victims' reactions to the obscene images they received.

A 33-year-old woman in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, is one such victim.

"An image was suddenly displayed on my iPhone," she told the Mainichi Shimbun, recalling the incident in June last year when she received an image of a man's lower body.

She was on her way to work on a packed commuter train on a JR line that was running in Tokyo's Kita Ward at around 8 a.m. She automatically turned away her iPhone after seeing the image, but immediately refused to accept it, not wanting nearby passengers to see.

Although the woman was surprised, she recalls thinking, "It's gross, but the sender might have mistaken the addressee."

In an instant, however, the same image reached her iPhone again.

"Have I been identified?" she thought in a panic. She once again refused the image, and the harassment apparently stopped there.

Following the incident, the woman changed her AirDrop setting to "Receiving Off," and has not been victimized since.

"I've been using AirDrop since before the incident, but I didn't know the term 'AirDrop harassment' at the time and never thought someone would abuse it suddenly."

It was only about a month later that she learned through TV news that similar cases were reported elsewhere.

"It was really gross and disgusting for someone like me as an adult, but if young girls like those in junior high and high schools receive such harassment, they could be traumatized," she said.

(Japanese original by Ken Nakazato and Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department)

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