This is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital/online abuse.
Technology opens up so many possibilities to connect with people around the world, but unfortunately the other side of the coin is the potential for abuse. As we’ve been discussing in our Behind the Screens series, mobile devices and computers can become tools for an abusive partner to manipulate, control, and shame a victim. They can also be used to spy.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “spyware is a computer software program or hardware device that enables an unauthorized person (such as an abusive partner) to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer [or cell phone] use.” Spyware can track everything you do, from keystrokes, to the sites you visit, to documents you print, to messages you send. In some cases, a person does not need physical access to your device to install spyware, and it can be very difficult to detect.
Spyware is starting to play a larger role in cases of digital abuse, thanks to easy-to-install and inexpensive technology. Much of the spyware software and apps available today are aimed at parents for monitoring kids and teens, but there are companies that market their products specifically for spying on spouses or partners. This issue has become so prevalent in domestic violence cases that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced legislation that would ban mobile spying apps.
How can you tell if spyware is being used on your devices?
As we previously noted, spyware can be difficult to detect. However, if you think your activities are being monitored by your abusive partner, there’s a good chance you are correct. For example, your partner might:
know your whereabouts when you haven’t told them specifically where you’ve been
know things about your online search history even after you’ve deleted it
know about conversations with or messages you’ve sent to others
question you about topics you have personally researched but never discussed
Additionally, on a cell phone you might notice that the battery drains quickly or data usage spikes. These can all be signs that your devices are being monitored.
What can you do if you discover (or suspect) you are being tracked by spyware?
You might be tempted to get rid of your device or try and remove the spyware, but be aware that your abusive partner might retaliate as a result. Do not use a computer or cell phone that your partner has access to in order to research shelters, escape plans, or to call/chat with hotlines. Use a computer at a library, at a friend’s house or at work, or borrow a friend’s cell phone or work phone to make calls. Use your own devices for innocuous tasks (such as looking up the weather) so that your partner does not get suspicious of inactivity.
If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. We can help you safety plan and direct you to local resources.