Cell Phone Location, Privacy and Intimate Partner Violence

The Domestic Violence Report recently published an article Safety Net wrote on cell phone location privacy and safety. This comprehensive article discusses how cell phone location is misused by abusers to stalk and monitor victims and tips on what victims can do. It explores the different ways cell phone location information can be revealed and concludes with proposed federal legislation on location privacy and best practices for app developers who want to collect location information through their apps.  Read the full article.

photo: Ron Wiecki

photo: Ron Wiecki

Meanwhile, here are a few safety tips on what to do if someone is misusing your cell phone location information as a tool to monitor or stalk you.  

1.      Safety first. If removing the tracking app or turning the phone off may be more dangerous, develop a safety plan regarding how to continue using the phone so that the abuser does not become suspicious. Simultaneously create a plan on how to communicate with others until the program can be removed completely or you’re able to get a new phone.

2.      Keep a log. Knowing the pattern of the abusive person’s behavior and what information they seem to know can help the survivor narrow down how the abuser is getting his or her information. Abusers can be creative and can find many ways to monitor and stalk a victim, often using more than one technology or method.

3.      Secure your phone. Become familiar with the security settings and put a lock code on the phone.

4.      Don’t install unknown apps or programs. Be careful not to install programs that are unknown, especially if the suggested app is from the abuser or mutual friends. Also, be aware of what permissions or access to data on your phone that the app requires before you download.

5.      Limit apps that are using your location. Know which applications are using your location and either limit its ability to use your location or delete the app, unless you are confident in what the purpose is and the extent of the sharing and access to your personal information.

6.      Use privacy settings. If a location program is already on the phone, the user should learn about its settings and features. Knowing what controls are available may allow for continued use while also maintaining privacy and control.

7.      Turn off phone. For short periods of time, a survivor can cut off communication from the phone by putting the phone on airplane mode or turning the phone off and taking out the battery. However, be aware that when the phone is turned back on, all communications will continue and location information may be shared again.

8.      Start fresh. When getting a new cell phone, don’t import everything from the old phone to the new one. Porting over all the data may inadvertently install the tracking application as well.

Want a more thorough safety plan? Download our Cell Phone & Location Safety Strategies handout.

New Survey: Technology Abuse & Experiences of Survivors and Victim Service Agencies

In a survey conducted by the Safety Net Project at NNEDV, nearly 90% of programs report that survivors come to them for help after abusers intimidated and made threats via cell phone, text messages and email, and 75% of programs noted that abusers accessed victim’s accounts (email, social media, etc.) without the victim’s consent and oftentimes without their knowledge. Intimidation, threats, and access of information about victims aren’t new tactics within the context of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or trafficking. However, the use of technology as a tool to facilitate these tactics means that the harassment and abuse can be much more invasive, intensive, and traumatizing. 

Technology gives abusers more methods of controlling and monitoring victims. Seventy-two percent of programs reported that a survivor’s location is being tracked by smart phones or other devices; more than half of the programs report that survivors are saying abusers are spoofing caller ID (manipulating caller ID so that it appears as though someone other than the abuser is calling); and nearly 70% of programs report that abusers are posting pictures or videos of victims online for the purpose of distressing or harming the victim. Programs also report that survivors are asking for help on how to manage their technology and stay safe while using them. Survivors frequently ask for help with cell phones (71%); followed by how to manage location privacy, whether through cell phones or other location devices (62%), and computer or laptop use (56%). 

These two newest infographics show how technology is being misused by abusers against survivors. NNEDV conducted a survey of more than 750 victim service agencies across the United States, including American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, through a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime. This is one of the most comprehensive reviews of what survivors are telling victim service providers about how abusers misuse technology to harass, stalk, and harm.

Revenge Porn and the Distribution of Sexually Explicit Images: What’s consent have to do with it?

In February, a New York court dismissed a case against a man who posted nude images of his ex-girlfriend online by sharing them on his twitter account and emailing them to her employer and family.  While his actions were reprehensible he faces no punishment because, unfortunately, legal limitations in New York, and many other states, do not currently make what he did criminal. But that is changing.

When sexually explicit images are uploaded online and distributed without consent of the person in the image, it’s often done as a tactic of abuse meant to cause humiliation and harm to the person. Many of these images may have been taken or originally shared with someone else under the expectation of privacy and within a trusting relationship. Some images may have been captured without the victim’s knowledge. In either case, it is an unacceptable violation of trust and privacy. This abuse has been coined “revenge porn,” a term that has been getting a lot of media lately.

Whether the victim willingly took or originally shared the image is irrelevant. Sharing a picture with one person does not mean consent was given for mass, public distribution of the image, and it definitely is not a green light for the person who received the picture to do what they please with it. We make many decisions that can have severe consequences if someone we trusted abused that trust. I can give my neighbors a key to my house and still have a personal and legal expectation that they will not steal from me when I’m not home. I can give a store employee my credit card and expect that will only use the information to finalize the purchase that I have requested. If they do, I am legally protected.

We must stop blaming the victim and start holding abusers accountable in these cases. The person who shared these images with the intent to harm, injure, humiliate, and abuse. By focusing on the victim’s actions and questioning why the victim shared the picture in the first place, as Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami said, "…what we're really saying is if you're sexual with one person, society is entitled to treat you as sexual for all purposes…”

Fortunately, the perception of this behavior is changing, as is the legal landscape around it. Due to the strength and determination of many survivors, states have begun drafting and enacting legislation to address this issue.

Read our new handout on Images, Consent, & Abuse for more detailed information on this issue and tips for survivors. Additional resources can also be found at withoutmyconsent.org. This issue has gained momentum and attention recently as people speak up and speak out. Learn more at the above links and share to continue the conversation. 

Social Media and Stalking: Q&A with the Safety Net Team

The Safety Net team recently wrote an article on social media and stalking for the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Check out the full Q&A here!

Here is a snippet of some of the questions and answers:

Q: What is social media?
A: Social media is user generated content that promotes engagement, sharing, and collaboration. It includes a wide range of websites and applications that can be accessible from computers, smart phones, and tablets. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are three of the most popular social media platforms, although there are many more. 

Q: How do abusers misuse social media?
A: Abusers misuse social media as a tool to harass, manipulate, and threaten. Abusers often send harassing messages or post offensive images – even explicit images of the victim that may or may not have been taken with consent (sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”). 

Q: How do survivors safely use social media? 
A: Social media usually involves sharing personal information. Users should look at privacy options and take note of what will always be public and what they have more control over. Some sites have rules against using fake names while others allow it. Many sites encourage users to share their location as well. Survivors should only share information that they are comfortable with. 

Q: What can a survivor do if an abuser is misusing online spaces? 
A: It depends on what the survivor wants to happen. One important step is documenting all contact and harassment. The survivor can take screenshots or photographs of the activity. A few platforms, like SnapChat, will tell the sender if the recipient takes a screenshot, so it might be safer to take a picture of the screen since notification may escalate abusive behavior. The survivor can also save all messages. It may be tempting to hit delete to make them disappear, but original messages will be important for evidence. 

Read the full article here.

 

10 Easy Steps to Maximize Privacy

Photo source: Ruth Suehle for opensourceway.com via flickr.com/ photo cropped from original

Photo source: Ruth Suehle for opensourceway.com via flickr.com/ photo cropped from original

We live in a world of constant technology use and lots of sharing. Technology has made it easier for families, friends, co-workers, and long-lost classmates to connect, and our online lives are just as important to us as our offline ones. But what you share doesn’t always stay within those circles and can be shared much more broadly than expected. Sometimes our technology gets out of our control.

So what can you do? Here are some quick ways to ensure that your tech use and sharing is done a little bit more safely. Although these may sound simple, these are some of the easiest things to forget to do and some of the easiest ways to lose control and privacy. 

1.    Log out of accounts and apps
Yeah, this is kind of duh advice, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget to log out of their accounts. They only realize they forgot when someone else posts something outrageous on their Timeline or feed. Logging out of your account is even more important if you’re using someone else’s device. Uncheck the “keep me logged in” feature and don’t allow the web browser to remember your password to automatically log you in. Doing so will make it easy for anyone to pick up your computer, tablet or smartphone, and post away, pretending to be you. 

2.    Use strong passwords
Use passwords to prevent strangers, parents (if you have nosy parents), and children (if you have nosy children) from accessing your accounts. Don't use the same password for more than one account, a password that someone who knows you can easily guess, or a one-word password that can be easily cracked. Create a password system so that you use unique passwords only you will know. 

3.    Review privacy settings
Review the privacy settings on all your online accounts, particularly your social media ones. Most sites allow users to limit what others see, whether it’s status updates or profile information. Don’t forget that it’s more than just social networks like Facebook or Twitter that have privacy settings. Most online accounts, such as Amazon, allow you to limit who can see your profile information. 

4.    Minimize location sharing
Smart phones have GPS location capability and you could be sharing your location without even knowing it. You can control which app has access to your location by turning off that option through your smart phone. (Most phones have location privacy options in the settings.) Some social network sites also allow you to manage your location privacy through the site’s privacy settings. 

5.    Don’t include location coordinates in your pictures
Did you know that when you take a picture on your smart phone, you could inadvertently share your location as well? That means that the selfie you just posted and uploaded online could contain your exact GPS coordinates. You can turn off that capability through the privacy setting on your camera app. Don’t forget that even if you turned off the location option for your camera app, the photo sharing app that you’re using may share your location—so turn off the location option for the app as well. 

6.    Be thoughtful about connecting social media accounts
Yeah, you can connect your Instagram to your Facebook or your Foursquare account to other social networks—and yeah, that may make it easier to update them all with just one click. But that also means that a lot more people will have access to lots of info about you. It also makes it more difficult to lock down your privacy. So be thoughtful about which social media accounts you connect. 

7.    Be careful when using free wireless networks
Free internet is always awesome. But you pay for it by being more vulnerable to risks. Using open wireless networks at your local coffee shop or sandwich shop can leave you susceptible to hackers accessing your private information. If you’re going to check bank accounts, buy something where you have to give your credit card information, or do anything sensitive, wait until you are back on a secure network. And if your personal wireless network doesn’t have a password on it, for the love of any deity, put a password on it!

8.    Use HTTPS everywhere
Not all websites are created equal. Some sites are more vulnerable to viruses, which makes your computer/tablet more vulnerable. However, some sites have a secure version – you can tell by looking at the link in the URL address bar. If it starts with https, it’s a secure page vs. http, which is just a normal page. (The next time you’re checking your bank account or buying something online, check out the address bar; it'll probably be green.) The easiest way to ensure that you’re using the secure page whenever you can is to download the HTTPS-everywhere browser add-in. Each time you go to a site, it’ll try to open the secure (https) site rather than the normal one. If the site doesn’t have a secure page, it’ll default to the normal page. 

9.    Use Incognito, Private Browsing, or InPrivate Browsing
Currently, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Explorer allow you to browse privately. Basically, privately browsing means that someone can’t open your web browser after you’ve used it and go through the history to see what you’ve been up to. Browsing privately is safer if you’re using a friend’s computer or tablet or are on a public computer. Keep in mind though that you have to close the browser to erase your history. If you leave it open, users after you can still see your browsing history.

10.    Use more than one email address
Email addresses are free, so have as many as you want! You can use one specific email address with a super strong password for your banking and shopping. Use another email for all the junk mail and accounts you have to create in order to use a particular web service. You could even consider using different email addresses for different social media accounts. Using different emails for different accounts is safer because if someone guesses one of your email + password combo, they don’t have access to all your accounts. You can even go one step further and download a service that “masks” your account address, so that you’re never using your actual email address. 

Facebook Removes Search By Name Option

 

Last week, Facebook announced that they were removing the “Who Can Look Up My Timeline By Name” option for their users. Since then we have been contacted by many concerned advocates about what removing this feature means for survivors, many of whom use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family but whose privacy from their abusers and stalkers is equally important.

When Facebook first told us they were planning to make this change, we expressed that this feature is one method some survivors use to control their privacy. Opting out of being searchable by name was one way in which survivors could use to keep an abuser or stalker from finding their timeline/account. 

However, Facebook explained, and we agree (because we’ve known this for a while too), that this feature gave a false sense of privacy, since even if this feature was activated, people can still be found in other ways. Some of those ways include:

  • Mutual friends. If you have mutual friends, unless you choose to not allow mutual friends to see your activity, many people can be found that way. Moreover, even if they have chosen to not allow friends of friends to see their activity, we have heard of many survivors whose mutual friends simply shared the information with their abuser or other people. 
  • Username/User ID. If someone knew your exact username or userID, they can find you that way. 
  • Graph Search. Graph search is a new searching option that Facebook has been slowly rolling out, and this type of search will make anyone searchable, even if they have selected that they don’t want to be found by name. Unlike personal demographics information, graph search reveals users based on things they like or things their friends like and other demographics information about the user that public. So, for example, if you like a particular restaurant, live in Albuquerque, NM, someone can do a search for “People who like [restaurant] in [city]” and find all the people who have liked it. 

Although we are disappointed that the option to be searched by name has been removed, the safest course for survivors and advocates is to educate themselves about how they can be found on Facebook regardless of privacy settings. Users should know what kinds of information will always be public, understand how widely information can be shared online, and determine what they will share based on their own privacy risks. The reality is that social media always has, and always will, move toward a model of sharing and openness; even if something is private now, it may not always be so. 

In light if that, it is important to know that these activities/information will always be public on Facebook:

  • Your name, profile picture, your cover photo, your username and user ID, and any networks you belong to.
  • Any public pictures or posts you like or comment on. For example, if you like or commented on a picture or a post where the original author set that picture or post to public, the fact that you liked it or your comment will be public. 

There are a few things that survivors can do to maximize their privacy.

  • Check out the “view as” option, to see what someone can see when they look at your page, whether it’s as a friend, a friend of a friend, or the public. 
  • Review your timeline by going back to previous posts on your timeline and change who can see those posts. You can even delete old posts. 
  • Going forward, limit what you share by choosing only friends. You can even go further and create lists that will limit exactly who see the specific information you are sharing. 
  • Take a look at Safety Net’s handout on Facebook Privacy for more privacy tips. 

As Facebook continues to change their privacy settings and introduce new features to their users, it is critical that survivors and advocates understand those changes and how it affects the personal information they share on Facebook. Facebook allows users to delete old posts or pictures, so it might be time to do your own Facebook audit and clean up your timeline. 

 

Donate Your Old Cell Phones

Photo: (Getty/DoSomething.org)

Photo: (Getty/DoSomething.org)

Want to do something for Domestic Violence Awareness month?  MTV and DoSomething.org have launched their Cell Phones for Survivors campaign, where you can send them your old cell phones. For every phone that is donated, DoSomething.org will donate to NNEDV’s Safety Net Project (yes, that’s us!). You’ll also be entered into a lottery to win a $4,000 scholarship, and you can enter as many times as you want!

This Is Awesome! How Do I Donate My Phone?

Take a picture of the phones you’re donating and tell all your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Instagram, the entire internet! – let them know how awesome you are. (Tag your posts: @nnedv @mtvact @dosomething #31n31) You can also share your picture on DoSomething.org’s site. 

Print a free shipping label, tape it on an envelope, put your phone inside, and drop it in the mail! That’s it. 

Anything Else I Should Do Before I Send Off My Phone?

Yes. Make sure you go through your phone and wipe off all your data before you send it off. 

  1. Back up all your pictures, videos, files, and whatever else that’s on the phone that you want to keep.
  2. Wipe your phone to factory setting to make sure that all personal data has been removed from your phone. If you don’t know how to do this, Google “How do I wipe my [phone’s make/model] to factory setting.”
  3. Remove any SIM or SD cards, since these cards contain personal data. 

Done. Found My Old Cell Phone. Printed the Free Shipping Label, and I sent it off!

Thank you!! Getting rid of your old phone helps us do the work that we do: training and educating advocates and service providers about how technology can be used or misused. 

Questions?? Let us know in the comments below; we’d love to hear from you!

 

Act. Speak. Make a Difference.

 

Last week, was a busy week for the Safety Net team. At the beginning of the week, Erica Olsen, Stephen Montagna and I were in Little Rock, AZ, co-hosting The Use of Technology in Intimate Partner Stalking Conference with the Stalking Resource Center. The three of us provided trainings on phones and its misuse, the internet and how privacy and safety can be compromised, and focused specifically in a 3-hour presentation on social media to about 50 victim service advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors. Visit the links below for tips and handouts on these topics.

On Thursday & Friday of last week, Cindy Southworth and I attended Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board meeting. Each year, Facebook brings together their Safety Advisory Board to talk about upcoming products and how they can ensure that their services are safe for teens and users who might be stalked or harassed on Facebook. 

Kaofeng Lee and Cindy Southworth at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, CA.

Kaofeng Lee and Cindy Southworth at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, CA.

I’m always struck at how passionate Facebook staff is about connecting people. Facebook, at its core, is about connections. That’s why we urge victim advocates and service providers to NOT tell survivors to just get off Facebook. We know how important that community can be for many survivors. Doing this work, we are focused (and rightly so) on how social media is misused to stalk and harass. We are constantly having conversations about how survivors can find resources, justice, and peace of mind and spirit when they are subject to abuse and control by abusers and stalkers. 

Yet, let’s take a moment and focus on Facebook and social media as a medium of connection and communication. How can we use social media to shift how we, as a society, talk about issues of domestic violence, sexual violence, and other crimes of abuse, harassment, and stalking? How can we use these spaces to change the way we talk about these issues, the way we think about these issues, and ultimately change the way people understand and perceive gender roles, relationships, and violence? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

In less than a week, it’ll be October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What are you doing to raise awareness about domestic violence? Here at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this year’s 31n31 campaign will be focused on actions: 31 actions you can take to make a difference. We’re also starting a book club on Goodreads to discuss issues of domestic violence in modern literature. Follow this blog and our Facebook page for other activities you can take part in.

Take action with us. Join our book club and talk to us (and each other) about this issue. Let us know what you think we can do to use social media to change the way we talk and understand domestic violence.

PS…To receive updates of new blog posts, click on techsafety.org RSS (at the left navigational toolbar on this page) and sign up.