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I used Apple's AirDrop to troll strangers with photos of space sloths

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And it’s been going on for months

For the past year I've been a terrible person. I've abused great power with great irresponsibility and savored every moment of it like the perfect last bite of a delicious meal. I abhor many aspects of trolling people, but I've given in and done it to other humans. Perhaps the only difference is that my motive has been to make them smile.

Each day I get on the train to make the half hour voyage into San Francisco for work, I am surrounded by people using their phones. Many have iPhones or iPads, and have a setting turned on that lets me send them unsolicited files through AirDrop. Where Apple envisioned it as a way to send useful files and websites to friends and acquaintances, I use it to send photos of sloths to strangers. And not just any sloths, but sloths wearing spacesuits.

The poker face is essential to keep sloth sleuths at bay

I've done it perhaps a hundred times, and the thrill has not waned one little bit. I've seen reactions that range from amused to confused, but never has anyone been visibly angered.

Part of the act involves a poker face and pretending to be doing something more important so as not to be caught. Though the beauty of the technology is that your targets can be far away by the time you've done the deed. You may think I'm looking at a spreadsheet or playing Candy Crush, but I am trying desperately to hold my shit together knowing you saw Neil Armslow.

AirSloth

The sloth photo I use is always the same, and was created by artist Pedro Dionísio nearly three years ago. It quickly became a meme of its own, with people replacing the heads of humans with sloths for wondrous comedic effect. Dionísio has repeated the process onto other historical photos, and has merchandised them with phone cases, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and even tote bags.

In reality, Apple created AirDrop as a simple way to exchange things without pecking in an email address or phone number, and it continues to be wonderfully brilliant. Since September, it's also worked between iOS devices and Macs, opening up an even wider group of targets.

By default, the feature is not set to share with everyone. In fact, AirDrop itself is not even turned on until you use it for the first time. But I've found that a surprising number of people have flipped it on, and set it to accept things from the entire world. I assume that's by mistake, but by the time they've realized that, I've already struck. They can, of course, decline the AirSloth, but I know they've seen a small preview of it.

You can decline my space sloth, but I know you've seen it

What makes things particularly fun is that the option to share with someone only pops up if they're actively using their device, and you don't often know who your target is. People name their phones all sorts of obvious and generic things. I, on the other hand, go with a handle that presents the possibility and plausibility of authority depending on the situation. Take the train for instance. It's Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART for short. When I'm on there, I'll quickly rename my phone "BART." If it's a coffee shop, I'll change it to "Starbucks." The sky is very much the limit.

Did Apple ever imagine this?

Did Apple ever envision people using it like this? I sure hope so. I can tell you that at a recent technology conference, I happened to be sitting a few feet away from a certain Apple executive and one of the company's PR people. I fired up AirDrop out of curiosity and both their phones immediately popped up, names included. During a break I ventured to ask why he'd left the setting on, and he told me it was to make it easier to share things with friends, and that he just left it on that way. When I told him what I used it for, I got a stern look of disapproval. Maybe they didn't think this through.

I imagine that one day, this will lead to someone figuring out it's me who sent them the AirSloth. If and when that happens, I hope it will be a like-minded individual who finds it funny. Until then, I'm going to continue to play the numbers game, and blend in with my surroundings as best I can. That's what sloths would do anyway.