Written by Jack Warner at TechWarn
Illustration by Bethan Cooke
Domestic violence is any behaviour that purposes to gain power and control over an intimate partner. Therefore, domestic violence is not physical violence alone, it can take many forms. Technology can be both an empowering tool and a potential source of risk for adults dealing with abuse from an intimate partner.
Modern technology can help perpetrators of domestic violence terrorize and control their victims — but it can also help survivors of domestic abuse break free.
Perpetrators of tech-affiliated domestic violence often try to control their victims’ access to smartphones and computers. They will use parental control software and surveillance equipment to track their victim’s activities both in the real world and in the digital realm. They will break into the victim’s social media accounts, harass them online, and even try to impersonate them. But even as the tech helps perpetrators of acts of domestic violence, it can also help the victim.
Using Technology to Fight Domestic Abuse
An intimate partner may be able to install spyware onto his/her partner’s device to get real-time location data or monitor internet activity. The perpetrators may also know the victim’s passwords, or be able to get them, putting the abusers in a unique position to the victims’ technological world against them. In this article, survivors of domestic violence will learn how to better secure and control technology and take back control of their lives.
Evade Abuser’s Surveillance
Abusers often install surveillance apps or spyware onto their victims’ devices to keep tabs on them. Someone can ‘bug’ your phone, which disables pre-installed safeguards and security features installed by the device manufacturer allowing abusers to install any software onto your smartphone or tablet. These kinds of software run in the background conveying details about your whereabouts to the abuser.
How do you know that your device has been tampered with? It is not easy to tell, especially if you are not tech-savvy. However, if your device behaves differently or you keep receiving notifications that someone has been accessing your accounts without your consent and knowledge, your device could be ‘bugged.’ The easiest way to restore the integrity of your device if you suspect that it has been bugged is to restore to its factory settings.
Set Up a Password
After resetting your phone to factory settings, you can rest assured that any spyware or surveillance apps someone might have installed have been removed. The next step is to ensure that someone doesn’t do the same again by setting up a passcode. Create a unique, hard-to-guess password (6-8 numbers) and you are good to go. Using a passcode helps ensure that nobody can unlock your device without your knowledge and consent.
Check Your Computer for Keyloggers
In an abusive situation, its highly likely that the perpetrator will, in addition to your smartphone, use your computer to spy on you. Check your cables and USB ports for keyloggers that the abuser may have installed. Keyloggers are devices that record keystrokes making it possible for someone to see any sensitive data that you may have typed including passwords, phone numbers, addresses, etc.
Secure Your Social Media, Email, and Other Online Accounts
As previously stated, power and control issues largely contribute to domestic violence. Abusive partners often use social media sites — such as Facebook — and other online accounts to monitor and control their victims. Don’t tag your location in your social media posts. Only post the things you want the public to see and know. Use strong, random passwords and keep them private. Use two-factor authentication to further secure your accounts.
Smart technology can be easily harnessed for illegal purposes such as to perpetrate acts of domestic violence. Tech-enabled domestic violence lets abusers intimidate and harass their victims remotely, even after they’ve fled the situation. However, the same technology can be used as a shield by survivors of domestic abuse. Using technology in a secure and private way can help victims of domestic violence break free and retake control of their lives, online and offline.
Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on topics such as whistleblowing and cybersecurity tools.