As smartphone and computer technologies continue to evolve, unfortunately, so too do the techniques abusive spouses use to twist these advances into manipulative tools of surveillance and cyberstalking.
Are you concerned for your safety or the safety of a friend or loved one? In 2020, you need to learn four new ways abusers are cyberstalking — and the steps you can to protect yourself.
Cyberstalking in 2020
New Cyberstalking Tool: Your Car
Everything these days is connected to some kind of smartphone app, including many newer model cars that offer owners the opportunity to check on their vehicle any time via a PC, smartphone, or tablet. For example, if you buy a new Acura, the manufacturer touts that “your vehicle’s vital statistics are easily accessed, GPS tracking and ‘find my Acura’ are available, and diagnostics can be run on command, all from your fingertips via a series of apps.” Most car manufacturers, including Buick and General Motors, BMW, Honda, Cadillac, Chrysler, Volvo, Mercedes and Land Rover offer similar apps.
At face value, it’s convenient to think that you can do something like check via smartphone app how much gas is in your car before you even get in your car. But when this type of tracking tool falls into wrong hands, it’s easy to see where it could go wrong. The app can tell someone your route, or if you need to stop for gas soon, and can even be used to interfere with your control of the vehicle. For example, the Acura app provides app users with the ability to “lock and unlock doors, flash headlights and sound the horn.”
How you can protect yourself: Stalking and cyberstalking (stalking that involves an online tool or takes place online) are both crimes in New Jersey. If you know or strongly suspect that your car is connected to an app that is being used abusively as a tool of stalking, report this activity to the police. You can make a report to the police and they may be able to help you obtain app store records to see if any such app was ever placed on the abuser’s phone and the amount of use the app has had. As part of any restraining order issued, deleting any such app may be part of the order.
For more information about car apps, have your car dealer put you in touch with the car manufacturer’s customer support team to get information on app use, and directions on how to disable or lock the app.
Upwards of 30% of stalking cases involve GPS tracking. If you have an older car, ask a skilled mechanic to check your car over for small GPS trackers that can be affixed almost anywhere on a car.
New Cyberstalking Tool: Smart Gadgets
High tech doorbells, garage door openers, thermostats, streaming music devices, fitness trackers, refrigerators, and even internet-enabled toys — any device or gadget that can be operated remotely through apps can be used as a tool of surveillance, stalking and harassment.
According to a New York Times article on the subject, “Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — can remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner has left the home, the devices often stay and continue to be used to intimidate and confuse.”
As the piece described, “One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.”
How to protect yourself: Most gadgets can be disabled through reset buttons and/or changing a home’s Wi-Fi password. Before you bring a new smart gadget into your home, read up on cyber security and what you need to do to keep your gadget safe from interference. Save the box and information booklet in case you need any serial numbers and can refer to the instruction manual to correctly program the gadget for extra security.
New Cyberstalking Tool: Smartphones Given to Kids
Your ex has been combative with you over paying child support, which is why you are surprised to find out that your child has been given a shiny new iPhone. Your ex says the smartphone is a way to more easily “stay in touch” with your child’s everyday life. This could be the truth, or the smartphone may be a “hiding in plain sight” tracking tool.
Don’t ignore red flags. If there is a tracking app or spyware on the phone, the phone could spike really high data usage, as it’s fairly common for such apps to use GPS and roaming data to monitor the phone’s location and ping back to the app. Does the phone’s battery run down a lot quicker than it should, and stay warm even when idle? Does the phone screen remain lit when you try to turn the screen off, or light up when you’re not doing anything? Do other apps on the phone run slower than expected? Are unfamiliar applications running in the background? Does it take forever to shut down? Are you running into ex more unexpectedly than usual when you are out with your child? All of these could be warning signs that your child’s new phone is actually a tracking device.
How to protect yourself: Check the phone carefully for unusual apps, and also monitor how the phone behaves. Take the phone to a repair shop and ask the technician to check for hidden apps. As a quick fix, turn the phone’s cell data off when your child is not using it; this will disable most apps on the phone. When in doubt, you can also simply give the smartphone back and provide alternate means of communication, such as a set time to Skype using your computer. Or you can provide a “dumb phone” that only has the most basic phone and text functions.
New Cyberstalking Tool: Changeable Social Media Settings
Social media can be used to find out where you are and who you are with, so proceed with caution and frequently check privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts. Whenever you update a social media app on your phone (and your phone may be set to update automatically without your knowledge), there is a risk that your privacy settings will be reset or changed from what you intended.
How to protect yourself: Change your app settings so that you need to manually update apps and make it a habit to regularly change passwords and check your privacy settings. Also be aware of new geotagging features on social media apps, such as the new maps “sticker” feature on Instagram stories that displays a map pinning your geographic location. You may not choose use the optional feature, but if you are with someone who is “Instagramming” the event you are attending, and you are tagged and the person also displays the map, your privacy is at risk. Use social media cautiously.
Legal protection for spousal or intimate partner stalking is available to you. You have the right to be safe. To learn more about the legal measures available to victims of stalking, please contact us today to schedule a free and completely confidential attorney consultation. Take your first step towards safeguarding your future. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below.