Domestic Abuse In The Digital Age: What Can You Do?

May 10, 2019
Axis Geffen

Article written by Axis Geffen

Domestic abuse and domestic violence can be perpetrated against women and men of all ages, sexual orientations, races and religions. Leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult, and many abusers continue to victimize their exes even after they’ve ended the relationship. Unfortunately, technology is making that easier, reports this CBC article.

“Abusive ex-partners are increasingly using phone apps and vehicle tracking technology to spy on domestic violence victims, according to some Ottawa-area shelters.” Furthermore, there is a fear that the abuser can or will hack their former partner’s bank account, phone or social media accounts.

Social media continues to be the most commonly used technological weapon in such relationships through apps like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and a few others. Security settings and permissions are not always straightforward. A user may think that they have protected themselves adequately (and they may have) but with a new update or a change by the developers, they may find that those settings have changed or been reset. For this reason, users should review their security settings on every app at least once a month – and after every update.

Conversely, application developers like Google, iPhone, etc. have recently begun to alter settings in their software / phones which can make it harder for someone experiencing abuse to document it. For example, in the Android 9 Pie update, more than 240 million downloads of legally purchased call-recording apps were intentionally compromised or rendered useless by Google.

The push towards apps like Signal, WICKR, and WhatsApp have been viewed as tremendous advances in the protection of privacy; however, they cannot guarantee complete protection from hacking or misuse.

Many shelters for victims of abuse now require that victims coming to the shelter must disable the Bluetooth feature in their phones, as well as geolocation services. However, in the Android 9 Pie update, Google has given the applications that it develops the ability to override any security setting the user has selected, as well as reactivate themselves, even after a user has disabled them.

If digital surveillance is a concern for you, or if you suspect your phone has been compromised by someone else, you can:

  • Activate two-step authentication on every app or device that will support it
  • Restore your phone to factory settings and reload each app one at a time, making sure to exclude apps you don’t want
  • In some cases, you can take your device to the provider and request to have it “reflashed” (although, not every provider will do so)
  • You can report your concerns to police
  • You can seek out professional technical surveillance countermeasures services / digital forensic services to inspect your phone and its contents (this can be expensive and must be conducted by a skilled professional)