[Link to the above video – I appear in a phone interview talking about the situation at Torrey Pines High School and Yik Yak, in general.]
Yik Yak has a problem.
The harder they try to market themselves as an app for college students the more high schoolers they attract.
In fairness, they really have been a good digital citizen.
They make it easy for law enforcement to contact them, they provide information to aid investigations when they receive a court order, and they went to great expense and effort to geofence off every middle and high school over the summer. They’ve even made it possible for school administrators to request geofencing or correct it.
And yet problems persist. The perception of anonymity gives some teenagers license to wreak havoc. Just like there were idiots who pulled the fire alarm every day at Hanau American High School when I was a junior in high school, the (child of) that same idiot will make threats on Yik Yak.
“You Are So Dumb”
In the words of a great American, Antoine Dodson, I say this: If you think you can post an anonymous threat on Yik Yak and get away with it… You are so dumb.
Here’s What You Need to Know
All of the so-called anonymous and ephemeral apps point directly back to you. (Yik Yak, Snapchat, Whisper, Secret, etc) The only people that thinks things disappear or are anonymous are the users.
So if you are using these apps and thinking it’s all private or secure or anonymous, recognize that this is merely a perception.
There is no such thing as privacy or anonymity online, only the perception of privacy or anonymity.
Here’s Some Reasons Yik Yak Threats Are a Bad Idea
- To create an account you need a valid email address. Oops.
- Even if you use a fake or “anonymous” email address to create an account, the IP address associated with your account points back to you. (Learn about IPv6 — “Every device on the Internet is assigned an IP address for identification and location definition.”) Oops.
- Most people are too lazy for that so they login with their Facebook account. Oops.
- With Yik Yak specifically, the app simply won’t work if you don’t have the GPS on your phone activated for the app. (Location Services for Apple Users) So while a Yak posted my only show you a general area it’s posted from, the app recorded your exact location when you posted. Oops.
- When you post an image to something like Whisper or Snapchat… the image itself has TONS of metadata that points directly to your device and location. Oops.
- The data network on your phone is constantly pinging your location back to your service provider. Actually, the GPS on most phones actually works even if you have data turned off. In other words, if that phone is on, it’s logging your location within about 10 feet. Oops.
- The cellular network on your phone connects to nearby towers each time you make or receive a call or send a text. While not as accurate as the GPS, it establishes that you are within a general area. Oops.
- Let’s say you think you are slick and use a VPN. Wanna know what? Your phone logs that you used that VPN. So if a threat came through a VPN and your phone used the same VPN? Oops.
And do you know how hard it is to get all of that information? Not that hard if you are law enforcement. A court order, subpoena, or search warrant is all that’s needed. A little paperwork and the signature of a judge.
So, let’s say you make a threat about a school on an “anonymous” app. Within about two weeks you’ll discover that what you thought was anonymous was anything but that.
Far from putting on winter gloves and pulling the fire alarm in 1993, an online threat posted to Yik Yak or another so-called anonymous app leaves a digital footprint that easily establishes your guilt. All of this data is admissible in court. And all of this data will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you did it.
Yes! I agree that it’s weird that I have to write this. It feels kind of obvious. But then again… every day a new story emerges of someone doing it. So, I guess this post really is needed.