What are the red flags of tech-facilitated abuse?

2 Nov 2022

Image: © panitan/Stock.adobe.com

In the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake, hosts Jenny Darmody and Elaine Burke examine the dangers that tech can pose in the wrong hands.

Technology has made life easier in many ways, from making your way around a new city with Google Maps to finding your lost keys with smart trackers.

However, in the wrong hands, these apps and tools can also be used to exert coercion and control over other people. This is known as tech-facilitated abuse.

“It’s not actually the device itself though, it’s usually the applications and features on the device,” said Louise O’Hagan, co-founder of Cyber Awareness Ireland.

Cyber Awareness Ireland created the National Cyber Security Awareness Taskforce, which recently teamed up with domestic abuse charity Safe Ireland to produce an online safety booklet to tackle digital domestic abuse in Ireland.

Ahead of the booklet’s launch, O’Hagan chatted to Elaine Burke and Jenny Darmody as part of episode three of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network.

O’Hagan said that while nefarious apps like stalkerware are a problem, seemingly innocent apps and smart devices that we use every day can also pose a threat.

“Stalkerware is bad but some of the apps on our devices that we use day to day have the exact same features and it’s just about how they’re used,” she said.

“If someone has the login [details] to your account on your smartwatch, they can see where you are from where they are.”

As well as the new safety booklet, Safe Ireland and Cyber Awareness Ireland launched a campaign, Red Flags Are Abuse, to create awareness of noxious digital behaviour that should be considered a red flag.

O’Hagan said there are several red flags related to tech-facilitated abuse to watch out for. These include denying access to devices to isolate a victim, posting abusive comments on social media, sending threatening or excessive messages, accessing personal accounts and using tracking devices to monitor a person’s location.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of this abuse, it can be incredibly difficult for victims to untangle themselves from it. O’Hagan advised contacting a service provider such as Safe Ireland for advice.

She also said tech companies should be doing more to make their apps and features safe by design. For example, currently many default settings for social media accounts are set to public, while others include automatically sharing location or accessing photos.

“For someone who doesn’t know how to work settings, that’s already a risk for them,” O’Hagan said.

Safe Ireland is currently offering free cyber awareness training on its website. Anyone who is concerned about tech-facilitated abuse can also find more information from Cyber Awareness Ireland.

Listen in to episode three of For Tech’s Sake to learn more.

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