We’ve looked a lot at privacy from the Big Brother standpoint: how the National Security Agency or corporate giants like Google track us online, say for political reasons or to make money from ads.
But there’s another kind of privacy concern that is a lot more intimate. You could call it Little Brother, though it’s really more like husbands and wives, lovers and exes who secretly watch their partners — from a distance. They are cyberstalking — using digital tools that are a lot cheaper than hiring a private detective.
NPR investigated these tools, also known as spyware, and spoke with domestic violence counselors and survivors around the country. We found that cyberstalking is now a standard part of domestic abuse in the U.S.
Digital Detox At The Shelter
Before we get into how spyware works, let’s visit a place that’s been transformed by it: a domestic violence shelter — a safe house for mostly women and children. It’s run by a group called Next Door, and it’s somewherein the heart of Silicon Valley. I can’t tell you exactly where because its location is a secret. (I had to sign an agreement to be let in.)
While the kids are playing with dominoes in the living room, counselor Rosa Navarro takes the newest arrival —a woman who has a little boy — into a quiet office for intake.
And that intake includes digital detox.
Navarro tells the woman that because most cellphones have a tracking system, “your ex can find you that way.” She advises her to shut off her GPS and Wi-Fi, and stay away from Facebook.
The woman nods and says, “I don’t have Facebook. I just do texting.” She knows to be cautious because, she says, family members who work at the sheriff’s office and for the police warned her.
Navarro says most of the people who come here don’t already know. They’re oozing data — from their phones, their tablets, their social media accounts — data that an abuser can access pretty easily.
Smartphones and GPS have transformed domestic violence shelters across the U.S.
NPR surveyed more than 70 shelters — not just in big coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, but also in smaller towns in the Midwest and the South.
We found a trend: 85 percent of the shelters we surveyed say they’re working directly with victims whose abusers tracked them using GPS. Seventy-five percent say they’re working with victims whose abusers eavesdropped on their conversation remotely — using hidden mobile apps. And nearly half the shelters we surveyed have a policy against using Facebook on premises, because they are concerned a stalker can pinpoint location.
Counselors in St. Paul, Minn., had to call the police when an abuser banged on the safe house doors; he had tracked down his wife using GPS. In Dallas, a woman inside a group therapy session thought her phone was off, but it turns out it was feeding data to her abuser. In Jamaica Plain, Mass., counselors had to help one victim debug her shoes after finding a GPS tracker embedded in them. A few shelters say abusers gave iPhones to their children as a gift, during the parents’ separation, in order to track down the mom.
Continue at NPR »>