Technology Safety Planning
Some non-physical forms of family violence include controlling behaviour and stalking. This can include using technology to keep track of where you are, who you talk to and what you do with your money.
If you are experiencing family violence, it’s important that you are able to keep in touch with friends and family and keep your personal affairs in order by using technology such as internet banking, email and social media.
However, if you are concerned that your partner or a family member is monitoring you by reading your emails, checking your phone calls or following your movements through social media, there are steps you can take to protect your personal information and increase your security online.
If an abusive person has access to your computer, they may be monitoring your computer activities. As a first line of defence, use the "incognito mode" of your web browser to prevent your internet history from being easily available.
However, ‘Spyware’ and ‘keylogging’ programs are commonly available and can track what you do on your computer without you knowing it. It is not possible to delete or clear all of the ‘tracks’ of your online or computer activities.
Try to use a safe computer when you look for help or access your personal accounts.
How to clear your browsing history for:
Google Chrome (desktop)
Online accounts and passwords
Use a safe computer to access your accounts. This could be a family member or friend’s computer, or a computer at your local library or internet café.
Some internet accounts hold personal information such as your address details and mobile phone number. Consider setting up new online accounts or change your password and login details for online banking, email, Facebook, PayPal, Google, Medicare and eBay.
Many online accounts will provide a function to remember your login details, or to keep you logged into the account even when you navigate away from the webpage. Always say no to prompts for the computer to remember your details and ensure you log off the account before exiting the site.
Do not use the same password for all of your online accounts. Safer password practices include:
changing your password frequently
choosing passwords that cannot be guessed by someone else
creating ‘strong’ passwords and provide security questions & answers that no one else knows.
never repeating passwords
If you are concerned someone may have access to your email account, consider setting up an alternative email account on a safe computer.
Use a non-identifying username, e.g. email@example.com.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide an easy way for someone to find, track and follow a person.
If you are using social media accounts, your privacy settings and the automatic location sharing settings may be putting you at risk.
Use the privacy settings to control who can see your personal information. You can also adjust your account settings to block users who you don’t want to see your profile.
You may want to consider changing your profile picture from a photo of yourself to a more generic image.
If you use a landline and you are concerned someone may try to track your calls, dial a different number immediately after your phone call so that your call history can't be tracked. For example, if you call a domestic violence service for advice, after this call, dial another number that is frequently called from your landline, like your mobile number.
Mobile phones and smart phones
Calls made and received on your mobile phone can be removed from the device by deleting them from the call log. In most phones the call log can be found via the 'Settings' menu.
Make sure you use a pin code or pattern lock to access your mobile phone.
Set your device to time out and lock after a few minutes of inactivity.
Location services, GPS and bluetooth
Smartphones and mobile devices have a built-in feature that can pinpoint where you are. This information can be published online through social media sites, or used by location-based services such as maps. It can also be saved in images you take with your device.
‘Checking in’ on social media sites lets people know where you are and what you're doing.
You can switch off location services by going into the settings menu on your phone.
If you use Bluetooth, you can change the settings so that your phone cannot be ‘found’ by other people’s phones.
Double check your privacy settings, so that if you do share location information, it’s only accessible to the people you want to see it.
Before installing any app for Android or iOS, make sure you view the rights and permissions that the app will have once it is installed on your device. The permissions can include making calls, connecting to the internet, making use of your contact lists or browsing history and sharing your use of the app.
If you are not comfortable with the permissions the app will have, cancel the installation.
Smartphone tracking and spyware
Most modern mobile phones and mobile devices, including tablets, can be used to track the owner’s location. Tracking and spyware applications can be installed on a mobile phone or device without the owner’s knowledge or consent and use the mobile device’s GPS or Wi-Fi data to relay tracking information to another person.
Some applications also remotely monitor additional private information such as calls, texts, emails, websites visited and photos taken using the device.
Removing or exchanging a SIM card is not enough to prevent tracking as the application may remain on the phone. Having the mobile device turned off will avoid data being sent to another person, but this is not a practical solution and the risk returns if the device is switched back on.
If in any doubt about your mobile phone or tablet’s security, the safest way to remove such an application is to reset your mobile device from within the settings menu i.e. factory data reset. It is important to backup or write down your contacts first as these will be deleted. Other items such as photos and music which are saved on the internal memory will also be deleted. Items stored on an external (removable) SD card should not be affected by a data reset.
If the security of your mobile device has been compromised
Turn off the GPS functionality (Location Services) on your phone/device in the ‘Settings’ menu to stop location tracking.
A factory data reset will restore the device back to its original state. It will delete the internal storage, erase all personal data and settings and will remove all installed applications including any tracking or spyware apps. This option can be accessed through the ‘Settings’ menu for most phones/devices (Android, Windows, Blackberry, iPhone). Apple products can also be restored to the original settings through the iTunes software.
A factory data reset will also remove contacts and messages. Therefore, you may want to save your contacts to the SIM card, back-up contacts to an SD card or computer, or write important contacts down. For most mobile phones, applications are available to back up contacts and SMS if required. Photos and music can also be backed up to an SD card or computer before resetting the device.
Check the applications list in your phone/device for any applications that look suspicious and that you didn't install. They're likely to appear in the applications list under an unassuming name such as ‘radio’ app. Uninstall any apps you didn't install.
Buy an alternative second-hand or inexpensive mobile phone to use until you feel confident that your other phone is not relaying your location and private information.
Turn off your phone and only use it in an emergency.
If you experience issues in resetting your mobile phone or mobile device or erasing the storage, content and settings, a mobile phone store should be able to provide assistance.
Reporting abusive behaviour
Keep a record of all suspicious incidents, and consider taking screen shots and storing these. Messages left via texts/answering machines can be saved as evidence of stalking or abuse.
You can report abuse, violence, threats, stalking or cyber-stalking to police and the abuser can be charged with a criminal offence, or police can assist with applying for an Intervention Order. There are criminal penalties for cyberstalking.
Stalking often involves a long term pattern of events, and recording individual incidents, even if these seem isolated or insignificant can be useful and help to build a picture of what is going on, as well as to establish a pattern of behaviour if you wish to follow up legal options. A good way to document incidents of stalking would be to keep an ‘incident log’ or a diary with the dates and details of any incidents, and any evidence.
The eSafety Women website is designed to empower Australian women to take control of their online experiences. This initiative forms part of the Australian Government’s Women’s Safety Package to Stop the Violence.