Need to Call 911? There’s an App For That!

In the past year, the app market has been flooded with a plethora of 911 alternative or enhancement apps. Some of the apps promise that they will connect you to 911 faster and more accurately. Other apps say they will connect you to 911 and provide emergency dispatchers with personal information about you, so you don’t have to. One app promises to collect evidence by recording the crime being perpetrated against you and connecting you to a “safety officer.” (Note: As far as we could tell from the app or its website, the safety officer has no connections to a legitimate law enforcement agency.)

Many of these app developers are asking domestic violence and sexual violence programs to partner with them and are encouraging programs to have survivors download the app.  While we’ll have reviews of some of these apps available soon in our App Safety Center, here are some things to think about when considering whether these apps are right for you.

What These Apps Are Trying To Fix

Currently, the emergency 911 system in the United States is complex. How your call gets routed to 911 depends on whether you’re calling from a landline or a cellphone. Generally, a landline number is connected to the house that number is registered, making it fairly easy for emergency responders to locate you. Calls from cellphones don’t have a set location. Instead, the 911 system uses the cell towers your phone is connecting from to identify your location. Your location can be fairly accurate or not very accurate at all, depending on how far you are from cell towers or how well your phone is communicating with the towers. This is especially problematic for callers from rural areas.

Another problem with the current 911 system is that if someone can’t speak, she or he can't explain what is happening when calling 911, a system that generally requires the caller to explain to the emergency dispatcher what is going on. Some of the apps try to overcome these limitations.

Some Serious Concerns

Despite how helpful these apps might seem, there are some serious issues to consider before you decide if it is the right app for you.

How Connected Are They to the Real 911 System?

These apps are not part of the traditional 911 system. They are a third party that promises to connect you to 911. When you use the app, it connects to you a call center, where an operator asks you questions or interacts with you via the app. After that, it routes you to the nearest 911 dispatch center where you (or the app call center) speak to an actual emergency dispatcher, who then has the authority to send emergency responders. If you were unable to speak or communicate or if you hung up, the app service may call you back and, depending on their policy, may inform your local 911 emergency dispatch center that you called. However that is not very different from how 911 currently works.

When in an emergency, there should be as few delays as possible between your call and the emergency responder. It is really important to consider all your options in contacting 911 so that you get the quickest and most efficient response.

Do They Really Work?

These apps are very new. They have not been tested to see how many times they are successful in connecting callers to emergency dispatch centers compared to their rates of failure. If you live in an area where, after calling 911, emergency responders were unable to locate you or unable to communicate with you, then these apps might be an option. However, if calling 911 currently works just fine for you, then consider if you need another app that does what you can currently do by dialing 911 from your phone.

If you do choose to use one of these apps, test it. Make sure that it works the way you want it to. Don’t wait until you’re in an emergency to realize that it doesn’t work. In our tests of some of these apps, we found that when we used the texting option, although we received messages from the app saying “help is on the way” and that 911 would be contacting us soon, no calls or assistance came. We suspected that this might be the case, since most 911 call centers are not equipped to respond to text messages so we knew that this was unlikely to work.

But Don’t These Apps Have More Features than the Current 911 System?

Some of these apps have additional features that you may find useful and helpful to you. If you test it, and it works the way it should, and you want an app that offers these features, then go ahead and use it. However, there are a few things to consider about some of these features.

A lot of these apps promise to determine your location better and more accurately than the current 911 system. While this may be true in some circumstances, it may not be true a hundred percent of the time. Your cellphone location is accessible in a variety of ways. If your phone is dead or you are in an area with very poor or no signal, there is no guarantee that these apps will do a better job at locating you.

One of the selling points for some of the apps is that if you share personal information about yourself (physical identifiers, medical conditions, family members, number of pets, etc.), they will provide that information to emergency dispatchers, making it easier for emergency responders to know what to do. Keep in mind, however, that emergency dispatchers and emergency responders are trained to respond to emergencies with as little or as much information as they are given. It really depends on the emergency you are in whether this additional information would be truly helpful. Also keep in mind of what this third party does with the personal information you share. Read their privacy policy and know how else they share or sell your personal information. They should also have robust security to protect your data and inform you if they have a data breach.

A final concern is how “evidence” from these apps (which can be in the form of recorded audio or video) will hold up in court. Generally, 911 calls are used as evidence in criminal cases, but if you are using an app where your first emergency contact was with a third-party company, how that interaction will submitted in court is unknown. Talk to local authorities about how this type of evidence could be used. Ask the app service how accessible the “evidence” will be. Some companies may release the evidence only with consent from you, and some companies may release it to anyone with a proper legal order, which might include the abusive person and his or her attorney.

Should I Download a 911 Alternative or Enhancement App?

Many of these apps are being marketed specifically to domestic violence and sexual assault victims because they know that survivors’ ability to connect with 911 is critical. If you want the ability to make a silent call to 911, or want a service that will communicate to someone your location, name, and any other personal information you choose to share, one of these apps may give you peace of mind. However, don’t trust your safety to an app without learning all that you can about it and testing it.

Additional points to keep in mind:

  • It might be faster to call 911 from your phone. Most smartphones have an emergency feature that allows you to call 911 with a swipe and a tap, even if your phone is locked. If the app requires you to unlock your phone, find the app, open it, and then do whatever is needed to send the emergency call (tapping a button 3 times, or push a button and then confirm or cancel the call 3-5 seconds later), it might be faster to just dial 9-1-1 during a serious emergency.
  • These apps will not prevent crimes from happening. Any app that claims or implies that is lying. (One app, for example, claims that using their app is “like having an officer in your back pocket.”)
  • Assess whether you have a situation in which using these apps will enhance your experience when calling 911. For example, you may live in an area where emergency responder has had a difficult time locating where you are, but after testing one of these apps, it does a better job.
  • If the app contacts other people (in addition to emergency dispatch centers) and shares with them that you are in an emergency, talk to the people you chose for the app service to contact and let them know that they may be contacted and what they should do.
  • Have a backup plan and trust your instincts. Don’t rely entirely on these apps. If you are in an emergency and something doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct and do what is right for you.

Safety & Privacy on Twitter: A Guide for Survivors of Harassment and Abuse

Twitter Privacy & Safety Guide Cover Image

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and Twitter are excited to announce a new resource, Safety & Privacy on Twitter: A Guide for Victims of Harassment and Abuse. This guide provides specific tips and guidance for Twitter users on increasing their privacy and responding to other users who misuse the platform.

Both NNEDV and Twitter firmly believe that people should feel safe in all spaces, including online. Unfortunately, many people misuse online platforms, such as Twitter, as a tool to harass, abuse, and stalk. This occurs in domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases, as well as instances of mob harassment specifically targeting a person. NNEDV consistently advocates and works to help ensure that survivors can actively participate in online spaces without being victimized. As part of this work, NNEDV sits on Twitter’s Safety Council to share the experiences and challenges of survivors in this space and provide suggestions for addressing their needs.

This new guide walks through a number of safety tips to help users control their privacy and explains several features to ensure that users are making informed decisions on how they use Twitter. These include a detailed look at how you choose who can see your Tweets, how you manage your publicly available information, and how you control the sharing of your location. Many users are not familiar with some features that can be extremely helpful to victims of harassment, abuse, or stalking – such as the ability to remove location information from all past Tweets at once.

Understanding how to respond to harassment and abuse is just as important as controlling your own account and privacy. This guide also focuses on how Twitter defines harassment and what constitutes a violation of their Community Standards. The steps to block, mute, or report another user are explained, as well as additional considerations for survivors who many want to contact law enforcement or legal assistance.

Many victims of harassment and abuse are told to go offline or avoid certain spaces, although this is not a n acceptable solution. Getting off social media doesn’t guarantee any level of safety or privacy and it doesn’t hold those perpetrating abuse and harassment accountable. That is not the experience anyone should have online. Survivors should be able to use social media and online spaces while also maintaining control over their personal information and feeling safe. Being informed about how to best use the spaces they are in helps to accomplish this. Survivors should and must be safe at home, safe at the office, safe on the street, and safe online.

Check out the new guide here

New Resource: Tech Safety App

We’re thrilled to announce the release of our Tech Safety App! The Tech Safety App is an educational mobile app that helps users identify how abusers can harass them by misusing technology and learn what steps they can take to enhance their technology safety and privacy.

This app takes advantage of the NNEDV Safety Net project’s more than 15 years of working on the intersection of technology abuse and violence against women, and who have provided expert advice, trainings, and consultation on this issue to thousands of survivors of abuse, victim service providers, and technology companies. This app is another way to get information into the hands of survivors.

The Tech Safety App walks users through understanding how a particular technology could be misused, what they can do about it, and offers safety tips on how to increase their safety and privacy. The app also includes a wide range of resources, including those on this site, the WomensLaw.org legal hotline, and other hotlines.

The Tech Safety App will be launched at a reception on Monday, July 25, 2016 from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm at the Hilton Financial District during NNEDV Safety Net’s 4th Annual Technology Summit. At this Summit, nearly 250 victim advocates, attorneys, law enforcement professionals, victim service providers from across the United States and around the world will attend to learn about how technology is misused to harass and how providers can address these crimes.

Download the app today, and let us know what you think!

Thinking Critically About Domestic Violence Offender Registries

Every year, somewhere in the country there is a proposal for a Domestic Violence Offender Registry. These proposals would create a publicly accessible database to list individuals who have been convicted of violent domestic violence crimes. The goal is for the registry to be a tool for prevention and accountability.

We don’t see that potential in a registry, however. What we do see are a list of unintended and harmful consequences for victims and their children. The following is a brief description of those concerns:

  • False Sense of Security: In actual implementation of a registry, only a very small percentage of abusers would ever be listed, meaning that the database would significantly underrepresent the number of individuals who are abusive and could potentially pose a threat to others. Domestic violence is a seriously underreported crime and few abusers ever enter the criminal justice system in the first place. Of those who are arrested, many are not convicted. Of those convicted, many plea down or are initially only facing a charge that would not require their listing in the registry. This is because most proposals plan to only include offenders convicted of violent felonies; and many proposals suggest including those convicted of three or more felonies related to domestic violence.
  • Privacy Concerns:  Due to the nature of intimate relationships in domestic violence cases, it is often impossible to publicly identify the offender without identifying the victim and their children. In a survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 60% of victims reported that they had not contacted police due to concerns for their privacy. Unfortunately, being identified as a victim can come with some social stigmas and can impact employment or housing options.
  • Barrier to Contacting 911: In addition to being concerned for their own privacy, many victims do not want a public wall of shame as an accountability option. They want the abuse to stop, but they may not want the abuser to be humiliated or for their family to feel exposed. They may also be concerned with an increase in safety risks if the abuser losing their job or is shamed due to the registry.
  • Safety Concerns: The registry idea is premised on the assumption that if someone found their intimate partner or love interest in the database, they can end the relationship and prevent themselves from being a victim. However, the most dangerous time for women and their children is when they attempt to leave or have left an abusive partner. The risk of assault, stalking, and homicide all increase at this time and it’s critical that individuals have the support and resources they need to separate from a partner safely.
  • Unnecessary Use of Funds:  Most states already make criminal records publicly available. Considering the limited scope of the proposals and who would be included, most of those records are already accessible.
  • Inclusion of Victim’s Names: Unfortunately, victims are sometimes arrested after they call for help. This may be because they fought back in self-defense or because both parties were arrested.  Regardless, including victims’ names in a registry discourages them from calling for help, has many harmful consequences, and undermines the fundamental purpose of the database.
  • Tool for Victim-Blaming: Domestic violence is an issue that is consistently minimized and misunderstood. Our societal responses continually look to victims to explain the behavior of the abuser, rather than truly trying to hold the offender accountable. Is it inevitable that with the existence of a registry, there will be questions posed to victims: Why didn’t you check the registry? Why didn’t you leave? Abusers tell convincing stories to rationalize, minimize, or excuse their prior behavior; and their charming personalities convince not just their intimate partners, but everyone around them. If we stop believing the myths that it’s extremely easy to accuse someone of a domestic violence crime they didn’t commit and that abusive behavior can be caused by alcoholism, we may start to believe victims and then look to the abuser for true accountability. Until we do that, a registry will only add to the current victim-blaming culture.

Arguments for a registry can be compelling and seemingly logical. They can also be deeply emotional when questioning whether its existence could have prevented a tragic homicide. Overall, the limitations of any registry to actually include every individual who has been violently abusive means there is a significant chance that it would not have been preventative and that it still will not be in the future. We do need preventative measures to address domestic violence, but they need to truly address the root causes of domestic violence, provide support to victims, and encourage people to contact help when they need it. 

Smartphone Encryption: Protecting Victim Privacy While Holding Offenders Accountable

The last few months have seen heated debates between law enforcement and technology companies over the issue of smartphone encryption. The government has argued that encrypted devices and new technologies make it more difficult for law enforcement to investigate crimes while technology companies claimed that weakening encryption weakens security for everyone. Currently, Congress is drafting a bill that would require technology companies to make encrypted data readable, and several state legislatures have introduced legislation to block the sale of encrypted smartphones

At the core of the encryption debate is the concept of privacy and technology security. Technology nowadays – in particular the smartphone – collect and store an unprecedented amount of private information, including personal health data, access to online accounts (such as social media and email), videos and pictures, and so much more. Some of this information can be especially private and something a user may not want others – a friend or family member, an abusive partner, or an employer – to know about. For those individuals, the security on their smartphone can enhance or strip away that privacy.

Through the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, we have been addressing the intersection of technology and violence against women for over 15 years, and have trained more than 80,000 victim advocates, police officers, technologists, and other practitioners. In looking at how technology can be misused to facilitate stalking and harassment and how survivors can use their technology to attain safety, privacy is a recurring and fundamental component.

For victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, privacy and data security are integrally connected to their safety. A survivor’s smartphone is their lifeline; yet their smartphone can also be incredibly vulnerable to misuse by an abuser. A survivor’s smartphone is often one of the first things an abuser will target simply because of the amount of information on there. If they can compromise the victim’s smartphone, they have access to all phone calls, messages, social media, email, location information, and much more. For these reasons, smartphone security and encryption is essential to safeguarding the privacy of victims’ personal information.

The other side of the encryption debate is the ability for law enforcement to hold offenders accountable, which is something we also strongly support. When abusers misuse technology to threaten and terrorize, investigators can trace the digital trail to discover and prove who committed the crime. An encrypted smartphone makes it more difficult for law enforcement to access information on that phone if the owner is unwilling or unable to unlock it.

While law enforcement should not be impeded in their ability to investigate a crime, it’s important to recognize that smartphone encryption does not prevent law enforcement from doing an investigation of technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In these types of crimes, the goal of the perpetrator is to wield power and control over the victim by controlling the victim’s technology, harassing the victim through messages or phone calls, monitoring their activity, or disseminating harmful and devastating rumors about the victim. It is often an interaction between the victim and perpetrator through a third party, and digital evidence or proof of this harassment and abuse could exist elsewhere: on the victim’s own devices or an online platform (Facebook, email, etc.).

There may be circumstances in which evidence only exists on the perpetrator’s device. This could be the case in a sexual assault, for example, in which the perpetrator recorded or took videos of the assault on his/her device and has not yet shared them or posted them publicly. In situations such as this, unless the videos or photographs were uploaded online or backed up, the evidence may not be anywhere but on the perpetrator’s smartphone.

In most cases, however, it is possible for law enforcement to successfully investigate and build a domestic violence and sexual assault case without needing the perpetrator’s smartphone. For example, evidence of harassment via emails, texts, or social media will also exist on other technology platforms. If the abuser purchased monitoring software or is tracking the victim through a paid service, there might be financial records. In some cases, the survivor may have access to some of the evidence that might be needed. While survivors should never be in the position of having to investigate their own crimes, they are often in the best position to know what’s happening, and they should be involved and part of the process.

Balancing Victim Privacy and Offender Accountability

Ultimately, for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, the smartphone encryption issue comes down to balancing victim privacy and offender accountability. Both are equally important but neither should be compromised for the other. Victim privacy is fundamental to victim safety, and the technologies survivors use should have the most security and encryption possible.

It’s also important to recognize that weakening smartphone encryption to allow law enforcement access means weakened encryption—period. If an abuser is technologically savvy or is in law enforcement, their victim may have less privacy and security on their smartphones. There is no professional immunity to those who commit violence against women, and perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence work in all fields, including technology companies and law enforcement agencies.

We believe it is possible for law enforcement to investigate technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking crimes, without compromising victim privacy through weakened smartphone encryption. Law enforcement, federal funders, technology companies, and the victim advocate community need to come together to figure out how to support survivors and help them be safe while also holding offenders accountable.

Instead of finding ways to get around smartphone encryption, law enforcement agencies deserve and need far more resources to investigate crimes facilitated through technology. Law enforcement should be given more information and tools so they not only know how technology is misused to facilitate crime, but all the different places where the evidence could exist, and the proper process and method on gathering this evidence. A good, thorough investigation of technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking goes beyond examining a perpetrator’s encrypted smartphone.

At our annual Technology Summit, we ensure that there are sessions geared specifically for law enforcement professionals, so they can take this knowledge back to their communities. We’ve worked with other national organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to develop articles to share this knowledge with law enforcement. Despite 15 years of addressing this issue, however, we still hear from survivors and their advocates that thorough investigation of technology-facilitated crimes is not happening consistently across the country. Rather than proposing legislation requiring access to encrypted data on a smartphone or banning encrypted smartphones, we encourage legislators and advocacy groups to look at what is actually needed to fully investigate these crimes and to truly address what law enforcement can do to hold offenders accountable.

New & Updated Resources on Facebook Privacy & Safety

We recently had the exciting opportunity to collaborate with Facebook on their international roundtables on Women’s Online Safety and were able to participate in three of these events in Washington, DC, Hyderabad, India, and New York City. The roundtables featured leading voices from many of the nation’s gender based violence (GBV) organizations as well as government representatives from various countries.

The roundtables were devised to create space for GBV organizations to contribute to the broader conversation on how Facebook in particular can engage the voices of women and create a safer environment for women to use the platform without fear of harassment and threats.  The goals of the roundtables were:

  1. To share existing Facebook tools women can use to help with privacy and safety.
  2. To share innovations Facebook is currently working on to improve the user experience. 
  3. To hear concerns from the field on what users are experiencing. 
  4. To create a network for GBV organizations to foster continuous conversations and provide a support structure for women users. 

The roundtables included conversations around Facebook’s Real Name Policy. Facebook has strongly backed their long-standing policy for users to be authentically identified by their real names. This policy also minimizes the ability for abusers and perpetrators to hide behind fake accounts and increases the likelihood that abusers misusing the platform to harass, threaten, or stalk a person can be held accountable. The policy has received some push-back, however, and Facebook addressed the various steps they have taken to allow some flexibility for individuals who are going by a different name in their everyday lives than their legal name.

All of the meetings discussed counter speech, which is used to combat negative comments posted on an account. By using counter speech, users can ask their audiences to post positive comments and help manage some of the negative, threatening, and harassing comments they are receiving.

During the roundtables, Facebook and Safety Net introduced the new Guide to Staying Safe on Facebook. This guide is a condensed version of the Privacy & Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors of Abuse, providing short and concise tips on privacy and safety settings. Both resources can be found in our Privacy & Safety on Facebook page of the blog.

The roundtables were an incredible success. We appreciate the opportunity Facebook provided for global GBV organizations to convene and share their concerns. We will continue to foster collaborations between technology companies, government organizations, and non-profits to help eradicate violence against women in all forms, including in online spaces. To learn more about the roundtables and all of the great topics discussed, visit #HerVoice. Also, check out our video series on Facebook Privacy, Security and Safety!

Technology Summit 2016 Registration Open

Registration for the 4th Annual Technology Summit is now open! Please join us for an exciting 3-day conference centering on the intersection of technology and domestic violence. Covering a wide range of technology-related issues that will be helpful to advocates, law enforcement, and legal professionals who work with survivors of abuse. National experts on these issues will be presenting, sharing their knowledge and expertise. We look forward to seeing you there!

Dates & Location

The summit will be held at the Hilton Financial District in San Francisco, CA near Chinatown from July 25-27, 2016. On July 28, 2016, we will hold an exclusive day-long meeting, which is open only for NNEDV state coalition members and tech advocates.

OVW Approval

We are happy to share that OVW has approved the following grantees to use their training travel funds to attend Safety Net’s Technology Summit.

Grantees from the OVW's Campus, CLASSP, Disabilities, LAV, Rural, State Coalition, and Underserved Grant Programs have been conditionally approved to attend this conference. Grantees from the aforementioned programs are required to contact their OVW program specialist to get approval specific to their award and to ensure that a Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN) is issued. A GAN must be completed before grantees expend any funds related to attending this conference.

Grantees from Transitional Housing, Justice for Families, Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence (formerly the Arrest Program) and STOP programs may be invited to attend this conference and do not have to contact OVW for prior approval.  STOP sub grantees need approval from their STOP State Administrator.  Grantees that are not required to get prior approval to attend this conference should be advised to place a “memo to the file” in their grant records indicating the conference approval reference number.

The reference number for this conference is OVW-2016-MU-007. This number must be used by grantees when requesting approval via a GAN or in their “memo to the file.” This approval and assigned reference number is for this conference only.   

Cost for Attending

The registration fee includes full access to all training sessions, light receptions, and related events as well as continental breakfast (lunch and dinner is not included).   

Early Bird Registration: $400

Standard Registration: $475

Registration

Please register to attend by clicking this link.

Check out last year’s program book for more information! 

Celebrating Data Privacy Day – Ask Before You Post

January 28th is internationally recognized as Data Privacy Day. This day began as, and continues to be, a way to create awareness about the importance of privacy and protecting personal information—a crucial component of survivors’ safety.

Obtaining privacy over personal data can seem almost impossible in today’s digital age. A significant amount of our lives is online, and even our offline activities seem to emerge online… somehow, whether we want it to or not. I gave a presentation recently and the organizers took photos and posted them in a public photo album that included my full name. But this is not an isolated event, this has happened several times in my work. During another presentation, attendees were tweeting out my quotes followed by my full name. At no point was I asked for my permission. It becomes my responsibility to actively reach out and communicate any privacy needs. It’s usually just assumed that people are ok with sharing their lives on the web. This is unfortunate. For survivors of abuse, whose privacy is directly linked to their safety, staying on top of what people and companies do with their personal information can be downright exhausting.

We need to shift our collective thinking around data and privacy. Just because it can be online, does not mean that it should be. People often feel bad or uncomfortable asking others to remove online posts or requesting basic information about privacy policies. It’s time to flip the narrative on this. It’s ok to share privacy needs and requests. It’s ok to ask for content to be removed. Privacy is critical to safety for survivors, but survivors shouldn’t have to disclose safety concerns for their privacy to be considered or taken seriously. If we approach this from a privacy-first framework, we can actually start protecting privacy instead of chasing after it.

We’ve all heard tips about protecting our own privacy. That list is everywhere. Let’s celebrate Data Privacy Day differently this year - let’s consider some steps we can take to protect other people’s privacy. If we can create this shift in culture, our own privacy will also be more protected.  

1.       Ask before you post pictures of, or content about, other people.
Not everyone wants their information or images online - Or maybe they don’t care if it’s shared with a limited audience, but prefer that it not have a public audience. You can never assume. Even your selfie-obsessed friend deserves privacy.

2.       Ask before you post pictures of, or content about, other people’s kids.
I know this one can be hard. I mean, do they not see how adorable their kid is? Or how adorable my kid is sitting next to their kid? Privacy over cuteness, people. We have to get our priorities straight.

3.       Think before you share something that was sent to you and ask for permission.
Just because someone shared it with you or on their Facebook page, doesn’t mean they want it shared with everyone you know.

4.       If you run a business or organization website or social media site – ask before you post content that is personally identifying.
Even better, create policies and practices around how you ensure full consent.

Do you see a pattern here? Asking before sharing is the fundamental part of ensuring that people are in control of their privacy. It’s easy to think that we’re all just a needle in a haystack and wonder what issue could possibly come from a simple post or tag. But we live in a world of search engines and even if your page doesn’t have many followers, that content can pop up with a simple Google search. Changing how we treat other people’s information will transform our own privacy risks in the future. Join us in creating a culture of respect and consent in regards to privacy.

Erica Olsen
Deputy Director, Safety Net Project 

Tech Tips for the Holidays

presents

This holiday season, I hope you get lots of presents! Or at least one thing you really want. If one of those pressies is a brand new technology device – say the newest iPhone, Kindle Fire, or tablet – here are some security and privacy tips.

Linked Account(s)

Many devices are associated with some kind of account.  You may have to create a new account or link an email address to the device.  Make sure you know whose account it’s linked to—preferably yours. Choose a username or email and password that only you will know.  

Go Through the Settings

This can be a bit boring (so grab some hot chocolate or eggnog), but spend some time going through the settings. Not only will this help you learn all the options and features on your brand new tech device, it also allows you to see what kind of security and privacy controls you have.

Was it Used?

I love hand-me-downs! But when it comes to tech, it’s important to make sure that all previous accounts and data have been removed. Do a full reset of the device to delete everything and get it to factory settings. Not sure how to do it? Just google “How to reset [your device name here].”

Go Through the Apps

Most smart devices allow you to download apps or additional software onto the device. Make sure you know what’s on there, especially if someone else set it up for you. If you come across an app that you know you won’t use or aren’t sure about, consider deleting it.

Update Passwords

If you asked someone else to set up anything up for you (the service, account, apps, etc.), and you gave them your username/passwords, consider changing your passwords afterwards. Yes, the holiday season is all about giving – but this doesn’t apply to your passwords and privacy! So remember that even if someone is nice enough to gift you with a fun device, it’s yours, not theirs.

We hope you all have fabulous holidays with lots of good cheer & yummy food!

~ Safety Net Team

Safe Surfing 101: Internet Browser Privacy Settings

Internet browsers—Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Apple Safari— are the entryway to the internet. They are also one of the first steps you can take to increase your privacy while online. Each of these browsers has built-in privacy features and settings that can minimize how much of your online activity someone else can see.

So, you’d rather not have your roommates know that you’ve been working out to Richard Simmons videos (it’s ok, we’re not judging!), or maybe you want to hide your engagement ring searches from your girlfriend. Perhaps you want to be able to privately search for information on domestic violence, dating abuse, or stalking without your partner knowing. These are all valid reasons why you’d want your internet browsing to be private. Particularly, for victims of abuse, in-browser privacy settings can help increase your privacy and safety.

We have a new handout that breaks down in-browser privacy settings for commonly used browsers. The steps in the handout may be slightly different depending on which version of the browser you’re using or what device you’re accessing it from, but it should still help point you in the right direction. Some of the most important in-browser settings to be aware of are the ones that allow you to manage what online searches and activity remain visible in your browser history. You may choose to use the private browsing mode to visit websites without any of that activity being logged in the browser history. You can also choose to go into your browser history and delete selected webpages or searches from the history so they will no longer be visible. For survivors of abuse, these tools can be critical to safety and privacy if an abuser is monitoring the computer/device activity by going through the browser history on the device. It’s important to note that in-browser privacy settings will not prevent someone from seeing your computer or device activity if they are using a spyware monitoring product. If you believe that your activity is being remotely monitored by someone, use another device to access information that you wouldn’t want them to see.

Check out the Steps to Increasing Browser Privacy handout for more information.

Safe Surfing!