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Man allegedly tracked down pop star using her own selfies and Google Street View

Hibiki Sato is taken into custody by Tokyo Police on October 8, 2019. The 26-year-old was charged with assaulting a pop star he allegedly tracked down online using her selfies and Google Street View. TBS

Tokyo — Tokyo police have charged a 26-year-old unemployed man with injury caused by forcible indecency for allegedly assaulting a woman in Tokyo whom he tracked down using a combination of her own selfies and Google Street View. It's the latest case of an obsessed fan allegedly stalking a young pop star, and it has renewed the discussion in Japan about the perils of fame in the digital age.

Asked how he found the address of the victim, a pop idol in her 20s, suspect Hibiki Sato astounded investigators by recounting how, by patiently poring through the victim's social media selfies, he was able to piece together clues by carefully analyzing the scenery reflected in her eyes. 

By enlarging the photos, Sato was allegedly able to discern telling details indicating which train station the victim commuted from. Triangulating these landmarks via Google Street View, he pinpointed the station and staked out his victim, police said. 

Sato, who was arrested on Tuesday, also told police he studied seemingly innocuous details in videos the woman shot in her apartment, such as curtain placement and the direction of natural light entering the window, to figure out which building she lived in.

Just before midnight on September 1, he allegedly attacked and molested the woman as she entered her building. He fled, but was later identified by security camera images.

"People should be fully aware that posting pictures and video on social media runs the risk of divulging personal data," an investigator told Japanese daily newspaper Sankei Shimbun. 

Commentators on Japanese news shows noted that with ever-higher-resolution smartphone cameras and pressure on entertainers to stay engaged with their audiences, the incident seemed almost inevitable.

It is the latest cautionary tale centered on the phenomena of the "chika idol," or underground idol industry, which is already rife with stories of exploitation and tragedy involving teens and young women.

A 2018 Kyodo News article detailed the grueling hours, minimally or unpaid labor and slave-like, multiyear contracts ensnaring hundreds of young women seeking stardom. Frequent social media posting is part of the job description — and now, apparently, an occupational hazard. 

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