A 13-year-old girl living in Kariya, Japan has been investigated and chastised by police for sharing a prank link online. The link reportedly initiates a pop-up window designed to be impossible to close online.
According to Japanese outlet NHK, the junior high school student was “guided” (a form of youth offender intervention in Japan) for spreading an unauthorized program. In this case, the “program” was a link that opened a window running an absurdly simple script intended to throw a user’s browser into an infinite loop.
ZDNet posted a link to an archive of the script, but we’ll just direct you there if you really want to try it for yourself. It simply opens a window that contains a cute emoticon and a message informing the user that they won’t be able to close the window no matter how hard they try. In reality, when using an up-to-date browser, it’s not hard to close the window at all. In our tests in multiple browsers on desktop and mobile, the browser gave the option to prevent the creation of additional dialogues. But it’s possible that someone could find themselves in an irritating situation if they’re using an older browser.
NHK reports that police also searched the houses of two older men who shared the link on the internet. Police do not believe any of the suspects created the link, they simply copied-and-pasted it from another location online.
A Gizmodo staffer translated the girl’s statement on the incident as: “When I was troubled in the past, I thought it would just be fun if someone clicked on it.” In other words, “I was going through some stuff and I did it for shits and giggles.”
Japanese cybercrime laws are quite strict and can be indiscriminate in their application. In most countries, a person would have to use malicious code to cause some kind of damage in order to face prosecution. But in Japan, simply possessing a virus without a legitimate reason was criminalized in 2011.
Last July, Japan became the first country to prosecute someone for using the Coinhive cryptojacking script. The script, which uses a portion of a target’s processing power to mine cryptocurrency, isn’t particularly malicious. In the U.S., Coinhive is perfectly legal and has even been used overtly by the news site Salon as an alternative to advertising. In the Japanese case, a 24-year-old man embedded the code in an online gaming cheat tool and reportedly made a whopping $45. The man was sentenced to one year in prison but the sentence was later suspended for three years.
Many Japanese speakers on Twitter were outraged that this young girl is being treated as a criminal for what essentially amounts to a low-rent computer lab prank. Many bemoaned the lack of cyberliteracy among the police force. “What this smells like is someone in the police department clicking on a link by accident and unable to even find out how to close the pop-up screen, deciding to get his revenge by making it into a crime,” one user theorized.
We reached out to the Hyogo Prefectural Police Department for comment on this story and to ask what specific charges are being considered for the suspects. We’ll update this post when we receive a reply.