Philip Hensher: I was a victim of vile 'bluejacking' craze

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The Independent Online

Sunday afternoon, a week or two back. I was on a crowded train from Exeter to London, one that seemed to be stopping at every other lamp-post.

My mobile squawked; someone was trying to send a video clip. It didn't say who, and I couldn't think of anyone who I knew who might want to. Anyway, I opened it.

Within five seconds, I saw the sort of thing it was - a film of really sickening violence, apparently of some real-life atrocity committed somewhere in the Middle East. I don't really want to go into it in detail, because it was the sort of thing which, even relayed in description, would probably hang around your head unpleasantly for days. I quickly stopped it, and deleted it.

A couple of minutes later, another one arrived; this time some cartoon pornography, again quickly deleted. I just couldn't think who on earth could be sending me such stuff - I have some fairly bad-taste friends, but not to that extreme.

The clips just kept on coming; I tried refusing them, but they were just re-sent; you had to open each one and delete it in order to get rid of it.

At that point, it suddenly became distinctly frightening. The phone buzzed again; this time a still photograph. I opened it; it was a photograph of me, sitting there just as I was, in my seat on the train. Whoever was sending this poisonous material was in one of the few seats around me.

The train was full. I thought about making a noisy fuss. But it just seemed all too likely that no one would own up to it, and that I would end up just sounding like a lunatic.

It's called bluejacking. The idea is that you start broadcasting from your wireless-enabled mobile phone in some crowded public place, until you discover another phone prepared to receive your (anonymous) messages in the vicinity. Then you start sending them stuff.

I learn from a rather repulsive website that the game is growing in popularity. A message forum smugly retells some really rather unpleasant tales of "bluejacking", in which the fun seems distinctly one-sided.

One "bluejacker" follows a victim round a supermarket, sending them messages reading "I can see you", along with descriptions of what they are wearing.

Another sees a "gay boy" he recognises from school in a shopping mall, and sends him a sequence of messages and images, no doubt calculated to terrify his victim, just as I was positively terrified.

No doubt it seems like great fun. If you're not especially intelligent and aren't likely to achieve very much in life, then I expect you can still enjoy the sense of power which derives from sending strangers repulsive material, and then covertly watching their shock and distaste.

I'm not sure it would be quite so funny, however, if it was happening to a single woman travelling on her own at night, or to an elderly person who only owns a mobile because of safety concerns in the first place.

They might not find an anonymous message reading "I can see you" quite so rib-tickling as the pustular subscribers to the website.

In what circumstances might it be useful to send a message to someone in the vicinity who you don't know? Why have the manufacturers of mobile telephones decided to make such a thing possible?

To me, it seems like nothing but the technology of a stalker's dreams. It is utterly irresponsible to make a routine feature of it, without properly warning customers of the dangers, and how they might protect themselves from this unwanted and unpleasant intrusion.

Countdown to an even bigger cult

Countdown viewers - a restless and mutinous lot in general - are in a state of uproar. Anti-Vorderman factions are mounting a challenge to the woman with the numbers on Channel 4's long-running anagram and mental-arithmetic show.

Richard Whiteley, some fans believe, was the only man who could keep the ambitions of a Vorderman in check. With his death, and replacement by the easily-cowed Des Lynam, there is nothing to stop Carol's plans for domination. Imagine! She's even taken to making her own puns!

Personally, I knew we were in for trouble when Carol appeared on screen in the middle of the afternoon wearing Roland Mouret's "Galaxy" dress.

But I have consolation for the producers and, indeed, stars of this little treasure of a show. Most of its fans are never happier than when they have something to complain about. If Carol really can turn herself into a figure of widespread derision in outfits steadily more reminiscent of Cruella de Ville, it can only increase the show's cult following.

* Well, I can see that Norman Kember and his fellow hostages are not the most gracious people in the world. The most irritating aspect must have been their readiness to lecture their liberators about what "ordinary Iraqis" want, despite the fact that none of them spoke Arabic. The gentlemen in khaki who saved them must have been sorely tempted to push them quietly off the back of the jeep.

Nevertheless, it came as a surprise that Mike Jackson was prepared to express his "sadness" that the Army hadn't been thanked publicly, or thanked enough, by the hostages. Since when did the Army start expecting to be thanked for even the bravest of its endeavours? I have the utmost respect for the bravery and professionalism of the armed forces. But it seems unwise to give the impression the lads will start sulking if no one says thank you, or that they might just jolly well not bother next time. Really, not much in the tradition of the Duke of Wellington at all.