The Big Bluejack Heist at Waterloo
It was this thrilling experience for a teenager which inspired Ellie, a 13 year old girl from Guildford, Surrey to launch BluejackQ.com earlier this month. �Bluejacking� or 'Bjing' is the sport of 'hijacking' people's mobile phone via their Bluetooth wireless connection within a 10 metre range. Ellie now makes bluejacking a daily pastime and details her conquests online. "I say that people should only Bluejack someone who takes it in good spirit, if not walk away and find someone else," she says.
Ellie now makes bluejacking a daily pastime after getting the idea from somebody with the username 'ajack' on the Esato mobile phone forums. Her interested was sparked when she sent a man in a local Starbucks a note asking how his coffee was and complementing his wife's glasses. Several notes later, and pursued into a local shopping mall by his unseen attacker, the man was still bemused by the whole thing, even asking a mall security guard what was going on.
This simple use of mobiles and Bluetooth could spark a world-wide phenomenon. And like SMS, Bluetooth was designed for something quite different to Bluejacking.
Unveiled in 1998, Bluetooth is designed to replace cables between other mobiles as well headsets, home computers and printers. Bluetooth transits in the 2.4GHz radio frequency waveband and can can transfer data at speeds of up to 720Kbps within a range of 10 metres, but future versions could transmit up to 100 metres with a power boost.
Bluejacking is fairly simple. Turn your phone's Bluetooth on and allow it to be 'discoverable' by other Bluetooth phones. Create a contact in your address book using your message as the name, with a message such as 'you've been Bluejacked!'. Search for a Bluetooth-enabled phones within range and send the contact to them.
It's also possible to send a photo, perhaps of yourself, to your bluejack victim. More sinisterly one might take a mobile camera picture of the victim and send it to them via the Bluetooth connection. Good spots for bluejacking are anywhere crowds of people gather, and it's even possible to Bluejack in underground stations.
Although it sounds new, the idea of a 'discoverable' personalised device has been around for a while. Several years ago a device was developed in Japan enabling two like-minded people to be alerted when someone else matching their profile was nearby. The idea never really took off, but with ubiquitous Bluetooth phones, the idea's time may have come given that it is entirely free to access - no 10p text messages or finding your prospective lover lives 200 miles away.
But knowing what people are capable of, Bluejacking could easily have a darker side than mere teenage pranks. Unsolicited messaging is unlikely to be welcomed and technically illegal. And without the filter of having to sign up to an SMS service, Bluejacking would be an entirely unregulated means of communication. Similar to the Internet, but unlike the Internet, used to communicate with strangers less than ten metres away from where you stand.
However, to oil the wheels of anonymity ibluejackedyou.com offers users the ability to register and make their user name their Bluejacking alias.
The practice could even - eventually - lead to prostitutes using a form of Bluejacking to find clients, and vice versa. The possibilities for sexual harrassment, illegal commercial spamming and sheer annoyance are, unfortunately, endless, although it's possible to block anonymous messaging. There is also the problem of accidentally sending your phone number with your Bluejack message, exposing yourself to nuisance calls.
But until more nefarious uses are discovered, Bluejacking offers several possibilities for relatively safe social interaction.
Mike Grenville of 160 Characters, the UK's messaging industry body, even suggests that Bluejacking could be used to invite people to play mobile games with eachother on crowded commuter trains, but virtually anonymously.
And you could see gaming commuters sooner than you think. Although right now Forrester Research says only 9 percent of mobiles in Europe have the facility. But according to a new Frost & Sullivan report Bluetooth devices in 2003 will double to 70 million units, driven mainly by developers creating new applications for Bluetooth. At the same time the free-to-use 'bluejacking' could well act as a catalyst to get consumers asking for Bluetooth phones.
Of course, the 55 Million text messages sent a day between people in the UK last June are hardly under threat from a technology which can only send messages 10 meters. It would be simpler to just shout. But anecdotal evidence suggests Bluejacking is taking off amongst teenagers � the traditional harbingers of new forms of communication. A poll on mobile community Esato.com this month registered over 28% of visitors as having Bluejacked someone.
New businesses are emerging to take advantage Bluejacking in particular. TagText.com is a UK firm which is taking advantage of the ability to send images as well as text over Bluetooth to create illustrated digital characters which teenagers can download to their mobiles and use for Bluejacking. At the moment the service is free but there are plans to start charging via premium rate SMS to download the characters. So far 'several thousand' images have been downloaded already according to CEO Russell Buckley.
The are also opportunities for so-called 'viral marketing', allowing cutting edge brands to circulate advertising; virtual flirting; electronic couponing and promotional messaging based on location.
There is also the possibility that Bluetooth phones could present new opportunities for software developers to create applications for linking Bluetooth phones - a network known as a �piconet�.
Bluetooth can maintain links with no more than seven other devices simultaneously, but link more than one device and pretty soon you have a viable network. Turn that into a �mesh� network and you have a completely alternative method for messaging outside of the operator network. Earlier this year BT put it�s mesh computing trial on hold, but the technology could be viable long term.
There is a device which already does this, but it�s a child�s toy. The Cybiko - a kind of game-boy with a radio - was invented in 1999. Users can send files (including music, games and applications) between two Cybikos, and users can chat and game with other Cybikos within a range of 50m indoors up to 100m outdoors. They can also transmit through each other to extend the range, similar to a re-transmitter. In other words messages can hop between devices - the bigger the number of users spread out across an area like a city, the bigger the range.
But there are also potential software problems. Some hackers have found flaws in the authentication or data transfer mechanisms on some bluetooth enabled devices, enabling confidential data to be obtained from phones anonymously. If Bluejacking takes off significantly there could even be major headaches for data theft as well as implications for sensitive data and phone numbers held on the phones of VIPs, such as politicians.
But is Bluejacking just a fad? Something for teenagers to play with in crowded areas? SMS was dismissed early on by the analysts, who saw only its business applications. But it's the seemingly frivilous application which capture peoples� imagination. No-one quite predicted, for instance, that someone would invent a Bluetooth-enabled miniature radio controlled car for �desktop� racing.
If Bluejacking really does go mainstream, people in theory will start to disable Bluetooth on their phones for fear of harassment, leaving the Bluejackers to harrass eachother. But for a while it will be easy hunting, and perhaps new social connections will be formed, incentivising the transformation of Bluejacking into something more worthwhile.
But for now, there is the sheer thrill of being a teenage Bluejacker on the loose.
As Ellie herself writes on BlueJackQ.com: "What an experience! As I began to wonder how many more bluejacking opportunities I would get in the day ahead of me, I was politely reminded by my dad that we didn't come to London to spend a whole day at Waterloo station bluejacking. Maybe one day though, just maybe."
(A shorter version of this article was published in the Irish Times, 28 November 2003).
This story has also been quoted by:
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Corante: Bluejacking: Bluetooth Proximity Messaging
By Mike Butcher at 28 Nov 2003