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Flaw in LINE Causes Unintentional Identity Theft

Everyone's raving about LINE--especially here in Japan.  It's the hot trendy free communication app all the cool kids are using these days, which means I just HAVE to try it too.  What do you have to lose?  It's totally free.  Right, Mom?

So I sign up.  I was drawn into the feature that "scans" my phone's address book for other friends and frienemies already on LINE.  Additionally, the app will add me as a friend to anyone else that has my phone number saved in their contacts.  How convenient, right?  This way I wouldn't have to tediously search for friends like I did with Friendster and MySpace.

But what happens if one or several of these phone address books that LINE "scans" contains out-of-date or incorrect information?  Suppose you got a new phone number.  Perhaps you were dating some guy or girl that went all berserk and stalker on you, so you changed your phone number.  Or maybe you didn't bother doing that whole number portability thing that last time you jumped from Softbank to AU.  In short, let's say a number of people in the world have your old phone number saved in their phone address book.  Stranger things have happened, right?

Next let's suppose that your old number is later given to someone else.  For the sake of this exploration, let's say that person is me.  I got a new phone number several months ago, and unbeknownst to me this number just happened to belong to some Japanese girl named Yuriko.  I guess it's only natural for a phone provider to recycle old numbers.  Save the earth, man.   

So I create my shiny new LINE account, enabling the ultra-convenient feature that scans phone address books.  I now have 5 friends.  Awesome.  But then something odd happens...

I start getting random messages from hip Japanese kids saying things like 「おひさしぶり!」 ("Long time no see!").  My list of suggested friends is kilometers long, packed with early 20s hip Japanese girl profile photos complete with Hello Kitty stamps and enough peace signs to indeed make the world a brighter place.  I find this unusual because I don't know any hip Japanese kids.  All those I know are in the totally-not-hip-IT-guy category.  I'm not complaining, but why on earth would LINE suggest these kids to me?  I dismiss the first message as spam and move on with my life.

Then it happens again.  This time I ask, "Who ARE you??"  The young man politely (gotta love Japan) explains that he is Takashi and I am his long-lost friend Yuriko-chan.  This comes as news to me.  He even goes so far as to send me a screenshot from his phone showing how I appear as Yuriko-chan in his LINE app.  He also jovially expressed his jealousy of Yuriko-chan's apparent new-found native English skills.

As it so often does, my mind sinks into the depth-less realms of foul darkness and mindless evil.  What if I ask sweet Takashi-kun to take me out for a nice steak dinner?  Or straight-up ask him for a suitcase full of unmarked bills to be handed over at the old burned-out factory at the edge of town?  Or that new LV bag I've fallen in love with?  Or a pony??  Nah, I can't do that!  I make an ugly girl anyways.  After a brief period of perplexity on both ends of the LINE, we figure it out.  Poor little Yuriko-chan must've gotten a new phone number, and I got her old phone number.  For some unimportant reason poor Takashi-kun never got her new phone number saved in his precious little black book.

It was a case of unintentional identity theft, courtesy of LINE.  Long story short, I closed my account and recreated it, being sure to turn off the offending "scan address book" feature the second time around.

As we can't be sure all LINE users are as noble as I am, please be very wary of this feature.  What appears in your LINE app as adorable long-lost Yuriko-chan may in fact be a red-headed douche-bag American dude.

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  • Guest - PiHarry

    Thanks for this explanation!

    The same thing just happened to me, the only difference being that a "new" friend showed up in my LINE was me. I guess it must be one of the prepaid SIM cards I used in Hong Kong and Taiwan about two years ago that now have a new owner and I have the numbers still stored in my address book under my name.

    from Vienna, Austria