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Smartphone apps used by abusers to track partners

March 16, 2015  |   Posted by :   |   Blog

domestic violence tracking apps

Domestic violence charities have warned against the use of geolocation services, apps and spyware by abusers for tracking, stalking and controlling their victims. Software designed to find lost phones can be used to monitor calls, texts, emails and photos, activate the device’s camera and pinpoint a user’s location. According to a survey by Women’s Aid, 41% of respondents said their partners or ex-partners had used online activities to track them.

“For women experiencing domestic violence, these technologies can be used to further terrorise and intimidate them,” Chief executive of Refuge Sarah Horley explains, “Online tools and mobile technologies can provide yet another way for perpetrators to exert power and control over women.”

Tracing software is not only affecting the safety of individuals but also women’s refuges, whose locations are usually kept secret to prevent women being followed by abusive partners. Refuge staff are now warning women to check devices for spyware apps and to switch of geolocation services before they arrive. 

Cloud storage is the easiest way for abusers to link phones to computers, through which they can remotely install spyware by email. This way, even if the user changes passwords and usernames, they will still be visible to the person spying on the device.

With digital technology and social media developing at an increasing rate, it is becoming even more difficult to stay ‘off the grid’, and victims of domestic abuse are warned not to use phones or devices given to them by their partner or ex as they may be pre-installed with tracking software. For women trying to escape an abusive partner, the Digital Trust advises to use a cheap pay-as-you-go phone and not to trust any device owned by their partner.

It is hoped that the new domestic abuse offence of ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ introduced by home secretary Theresa May will help to capture patterns of stalking and harassment, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.

If you need advice about domestic abuse, please contact Refuge or Women’s Aid, or speak to a family law solicitor in confidence.

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