Our Devices Hold a Lot of Information

It’s become almost impossible to live without digital devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, fitness monitors, and smartwatches. While these devices offer many benefits, they’ve unfortunately given abusers new ways to monitor their partners. Our devices already keep a record of our search history, text messages, phone calls, emails, browser history, and more. Through GPS tracking apps, abusers are now able to get unparalleled access to our every move, including everything from our physical location to the conversations we have near our devices.

Due to the “hidden” nature of some of these tracking apps, we highly recommend that you take precautions with your devices if you are experiencing domestic abuse—act as if you are already being monitored. Below are a few suggestions for how to stay safer with your devices.

What are Tracker Apps?

Tracker apps come in a variety of forms. Most use some form of GPS monitoring to track the location of the device itself (most often a smartphone) and by extension the phone’s owner. Others will use “key logger” software to send Google searches, emails, text messages, phone calls, and more back to a different device—typically the abuser’s own device. Some sophisticated apps can even can allow remote access to a device’s microphone and camera, essentially turning the phone or computer into a live listening device.

Some apps appear innocent enough, marketed under purposes like “Find My iPhone” in case it’s lost or stolen, or some are “Child Monitoring” apps, used by parents to check up on their teens. These kinds of apps can be found on the App Store and Google Play Store and their presence on a device is not hidden. However, there are other more nefarious tracking apps that can be purchased outside of the app store. These apps are often hidden and won’t show up in a full list of apps on your device. This makes it especially difficult to tell for certain if you’re being monitored.

Woman using a laptop

How to Stay Safer

There are steps you can take to reduce the amount of access a partner may have to your data. Even if your device isn’t being actively monitored, things like search history, text messages, phone calls, and app downloads can be viewed after the fact, so it’s important to be careful about what actions you take on your personal devices.

If you’re downloading a new app of any kind, consider limiting access to things like GPS location, microphone, and your camera. When conducting any web searches related to abusive partners, domestic violence, or getting help, use a non-personal device. This might mean going to a library, using a public computer on a college campus, or borrowing the device of a trusted friend.

If you want to speak to a family member or friend about concerns regarding your partner, do it in person—phone calls, text messages, and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp leave behind a record that could be monitored. We also suggest leaving your phone in your vehicle or in another room while you have sensitive conversations. This will protect you if your phone is being used as a listening device.

Enabling Security Features

If you feel safe to do so, enabling security on your device is a good practice to limit access to your data. If you feel like adding these layers of security will draw your abuser’s attention in a negative way, do whatever you think will be best for your situation.

If you are able, try to avoid leaving your devices within reach when you aren’t in the room. This can be especially difficult when you live with your abuser—many abusers will tamper with devices while their partners are asleep. You can try to limit access during these periods of time by using passwords, PIN codes, or fingerprint or face scanning security. GPS and location tracking can also be disabled on your device.

Man using a smartphone outside

Leave Behind Your Devices When Seeking Help

If you schedule a visit with your local domestic violence service provider or go into a shelter, you should leave your digital devices behind. We understand that much of your whole life is contained in your phone, but unfortunately the risk it carries is very high. Domestic violence professionals will help you work around the limitations brought on by being away from your devices.

You can find your local domestic violence service provider in Illinois by clicking the button below—all providers operate a 24/7, confidential phone line. If you’re outside Illinois, you can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-7233.