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The AirDrop icon. AirDrop is the primary medium for cyber-flashing.

Cyber flashing is a crime which involves sending obscene pictures to strangers through AirDrop.[1][2] The term can also apply to the same action carried out entirely through Bluetooth.

Initial usage[edit]

The mainstream initial usage of the term occurred around the 13th August 2015, after a female commuter was AirDropped two pictures of a penis. The case was reported to the British Transport Police who indicated that as the pictures were declined insufficient data was recorded by the receiving phone to provide suitable evidence.[2]

Methodology and prevention[edit]

AirDrop is a hybrid communication method of Bluetooth and Wifi. Bluetooth passes communication via use of UHF radio waves. AirDrop seeks out potential communication partners by use of Bluetooth and then uses it to establish a secure peer-to-peer "Wifi channel" over which the actual information is passed - usually photographs, documents and videos.[3]

An appropriately equipped device can seek out any active peers within about 10 metres.[3] The harassing individual can make an initial connection with any device that is open to all users. A photo can then be sent with a preview of the photo being shown to the device's owner at the same time as a request to allow connection. Therefore the harassment (the "flashing") can occur before a specific connection is authorised.[4]

Prevention requires reverting to the iPhone's default conditions - either turn AirDrop off or set it only to allow connections with contacts. Police forces have suggested pushing AirDrop to program an automatic reversion to this condition after a set time of configured open access.[4]

If harassing photographs are received then keeping them allows the victim to provide a much greater set of information to cyber crime units with the police. This does cause the issue that the most effective methods of catching the cyber-flashers risks causing additional harassment and pain to the victims.

Additional incidents[edit]

Frequency of the crime has been difficult to assess with significantly stronger anecdotal evidence than indicated by crime figures.

On August 13, 2017, the New York Post reported that at least two women were sent nude pictures while commuting.[5] A Huffington Post reporter in the UK was also sent more than a 100 sexual pictures while commuting. This case was reported to the British Transport Police and when these news stories were published a number of women indicated to the publications that they had suffered similar harassment.[1] However UK police forces indicates very few complaints for these actions despite "a growing awareness" of it occurring. This indicates a wide-level of under-reporting and thus few arrests and prosecutions.[1]

In Australia, May 2018, it was reporting that cyber-flashing was increasingly common as a prank used by children, popular due to its ease to target multiple individuals very rapidly in a fairly unidentifiable fashion.[6]

Legal issues[edit]

As with other technological-based abuses, such as Deepfake pornography, revenge porn and upskirting there was no specific pre-existing law designed to criminalise and prevent cyber-flashing. This means that many police forces were and are required to fallback on more generalised crimes such as harassment and outraging public decency.[7]

In New South Wales, Australia, The Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Bill 2017[8] was implemented to make it an offence to "intentionally record or distribute, or threaten to record or distribute, an intimate image of a person without their consent".[9] This legislation would cover cyber-flashing by its prohibition on distributing intimate images without consent.

In the UK there has been criticism that "upskirting laws" under consideration would not cover cyber-flashing, as well as other forms of image-based abuse, such as revenge porn. The proposed laws also have a stronger intent prohibition, and it is unclear whether it would cover non-harassment circumstances as well as issues where the receiver of the images has not consented but the "image subject" has.[7]

In Singapore, the cyber flashing, upskirt photography and revenge porn has been criminalized since May 2019.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gallagher, Sophie (15 August 2017). "New 'Cyber-Flashing' Trend Going Unreported Because Victims Aren't Coming Forward". HuffPo. Archived from the original on 2018-07-04. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b Bell, Sarah (13 August 2015). "Police investigate 'first cyber-flashing' case". BBC. Archived from the original on 2018-07-17. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b Nations, Daniel (23 June 2018). "What is AirDrop?". Lifewire. Archived from the original on 2018-07-04. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b Charlton, Alistair (14 August 2015). "iPhone cyber-flashing: What is it and how to stop it happening to you". International Business Times. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  5. ^ Licea, Melkorka (12 August 2017). "AirDropping penis pics is the latest horrifying subway trend". New York Post. Archived from the original on 2018-07-04. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  6. ^ Livingstone, Tom (14 May 2018). "School kids putting themselves at risk 'pranking' strangers with AirDrop porn". Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  7. ^ a b Nelson, Sara (14 June 2018). "'Deepfake Porn' And 'Cyber-Flashing': The Other Abuses Not Included In New Upskirting Laws". HuffPo. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Bill 2017". Legislative Assembly. Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  9. ^ Evans, Michael (29 August 2017). "THAT'S THE LAW: Criminalising revenge porn unlikely to act as true deterrent". Central Western Daily. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  10. ^ "'Cyber flashers' in Singapore could now get two years in prison". CNN. May 7, 2019. Retrieved 25 May 2019.