Smartphones and Domestic Abuse

On my drive to work the other day I was listening to KCRW, you know, just getting prepared for the daily grind.  A story popped up about spyware technology and domestic abuse by Aarti Shahani.  With so many domestic abuse cases slamming headlines these days, my curiosity perked up.  I mean, I am SO excited to check out the new iPhone 6 but smartphones are getting p-r-e-t-t-y smart these days.  And that's definitely an adjustment worth paying attention to.

Beginning her research at a domestic violence shelter in the Silicon Valley area and then expanding to over 70 shelters, Shahani discovered that 85% of surveyed shelters are "working directly with victims whose abusers tracked them using GPS."  Even more shocking is that 75% say they are "working with victims whose abusers eavesdropped on their conversation remotely - using hidden mobile apps."  I had no idea.

Most spyware companies operate with pay-as-you-go subscriptions, offering services that allow someone else to track you by turning your computer, tablet, or smartphone into a spy.  One program, called MSpy, can be downloaded onto your smartphone and sit, hiding in some nondescript folder.  The stalker can then use the MSpy software to access "contacts, call logs, text messages, call recordings (full recordings of entire conversations), photos, video files, and a log of every website visited by the person being stalked."  What?!?

After thinking about the spyware technology and my familiarity with it's positioning in the marketplace, I admit I have heard about apps like MSpy, but in a totally different context.  For instance, I've seen ads for software directed towards parents which enables them to keep tabs on their kids.  This has always seemed well-intentioned and innocent enough.  But of course stalkers and abusers would take advantage of these apps.  Especially when they are so readily available and easy to use (most have step-by-step user guides!).  When NPR reached out to MSpy to inquire about how they report and prevent abuse, their response was alarming.  Long story short, they have their users "[sign] an agreement acknowledging it's illegal to secretly spy on someone and [that] the company is not liable."    

Readers, please read Shahani's piece so you can pick up all of the details.  Our privacy, security, and safety is absolutely becoming more and more compromised as the world becomes an increasingly digital place.  

P.S.  Take a minute to donate to KCRW's fundraiser to support content like this.  If you don't listen to public radio yet, it's time!



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