Emergency SOS on Apple iOS 11: Safety Features and Security Concerns

Apple recently unveiled its newly updated operating system - iOS 11 - for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The operating system offers a variety of new tools that will impact the lives of survivors of domestic violence. This two-part blog series features two of the new tools. Recently we released a blog about the screen recording feature. Today, we are featuring the Emergency SOS calling feature.

The new Emergency SOS feature in iOS 11 allows iPhone users to call emergency services, with the added options to alert trusted contacts via text message that the emergency call was placed, and to send those contacts updates on the user’s current location. You can do all of these things without unlocking the phone. As with all technology, it’s important to look closely at both the benefits and how the new feature  may impact a safety planning process. If you’re at risk of abuse from somebody known to you, it’s very important to know that the Emergency SOS button may be a part of a safety plan, but it is not a substitute for a safety plan. In this blog, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of setting up this feature and offer key safety considerations for survivors who are interested in using it.

The Emergency SOS feature is not a new feature for smartphones, but this is the first time a tool like this has been available as a part of the iPhone's operating system. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7, and other Android-based devices have had this feature built into the operating system for several years. Similar tools that allow a user to quickly contact trusted contacts and emergency services have also been available as third-party apps in the Apple App and Google Play Stores. For a review of personal safety apps, please take a look at Safety Apps: Getting Help During an Emergency page of our App Safety Center.

Activation

If you want to activate or test the Emergency SOS feature, you can do so by going into the Settings app of your device. Once there, scroll down until you see the Emergency SOS tab, which currently looks like the image below. Clicking on the Emergency SOS tab will take you to the set-up page. Information will appear that will assist you in setting up the feature.

Activating emergency sos mode in ios 11

Triggering Emergency SOS

The buttons you press to trigger emergency SOS depends on which phone you have.

  • For iPhones 7, 7+, and older, press the button on the right side of the device rapidly 5 times to activate Emergency SOS.
  • For iPhone 8, 8+, and X, press and hold the button on the right side while at the same time pressing and holding one of the two volume buttons.

Set Up Options

There are two modes for Emergency SOS. For the sake of this blog, we will call them the default mode and the auto-call mode.

Default Mode: If you activate Emergency SOS without making any changes, the feature will be in default mode.  After the Emergency SOS feature has been triggered in default mode, a screen will appear with several different buttons that the user can slide to call Emergency SOS, access Medical ID, power off the device, or cancel the triggered feature (in case it was accidentally triggered). This is what you will see on the device:

DefaultMode.png

Key consideration: The default mode is helpful for avoiding accidental calls to emergency services, but it also means you will have to look at the phone to actually place the call, which may raise the suspicions of the abusive person.  

Auto Call Mode: Alternatively, auto-call mode can be turned on so that once the Emergency SOS feature has been triggered, a call will automatically be placed. The call will not be placed for 3 seconds, which gives the user an opportunity to cancel the call.

Key consideration: It's important to note that by default, auto-call mode will sound a loud, siren-like alarm when Emergency SOS is triggered - however the sound feature can be turned off. Once the auto-call mode is triggered, the alarm sounds and a short, 3-second countdown appears on the screen period where the 911 call can be canceled. After the 3 seconds have passed, the call will be placed. This countdown was designed to give the user a chance to cancel the call if it was triggered accidentally, and to draw the attention of anyone in the area. While sounding an alert can be helpful for avoiding accidental 911 calls or for drawing public attention during incidents of violence, it will also alert an abusive person that it’s been triggered, giving them time to grab the phone from the victim and possibly cancel the call. Particularly in cases of domestic violence, alerting the abusive person may escalate violence. Thankfully, Apple offers a way to disable the warning sound. This can be done by scrolling down to the bottom of the Emergency SOS settings page and toggling off the Countdown Sound button (see images below).

AutoCall2.png
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 Emergency Contact Notification & Location Sharing

Within the Emergency SOS settings, you also have the option of selecting multiple emergency contacts to receive notice of the emergency. These contacts will be taken from contacts that you set up in the Medical ID feature on iOS. Once emergency contacts are selected, if you activate the Emergency SOS feature and a call to 911 is placed, each of these contacts will receive a text message notifying them that you have contacted emergency services and providing them with your current location. There is approximately a ten second time period where you can cancel the text message notification before it is sent. Additionally, if your location services are turned off, the iPhone will temporarily turn them on. If your location changes after the initial text message is sent, your contacts will receive ongoing SOS location updates as you move around. Your phone will have a blue alert at the top of the screen that alerts you to the fact that your location is being shared. You will also receive a reminder on your phone after 10 minutes have passed that lets you know that your emergency contacts are still receiving emergency location updates. You can stop sharing the updates at any time, and will be reminded every 4 hours that they are still sending updates. You will no longer be reminded after 24 hours have passed.

Your contacts will receive a text message similar to the image below.

EmergencyNotification.png

Key Considerations: If the abusive partner gets your phone as the call is in process and hangs it up, they may be able to cancel the emergency contact notification system before it engages. Additionally, you can only assign emergency contacts that are a part of your contact list. This can be a problem if you want to use a number that you need to keep discreet and separate from your contact list. One possible work around would be to assign the number under a fake name that you aren’t worried about your partner seeing – then you would just need to make sure to remember who the number actually calls. There may be a way to hide contacts through iCloud and the default contacts app, however hiding is not likely to be of much assistance because you will still have to have the individual emergency contacts visible within the Medical ID feature in order to use them for Emergency SOS. If your contact does not have good service at the time of the message they may not receive the exact location or location data at the same time that it is sent. This means it's important to consider someone's availability and phone reception when deciding if you want to include them as an emergency contact. 

 Overall, as with any technology, there are benefits and risks for safety and privacy. If this feature is something you think may increase your safety, give you options for communicating emergency needs quickly, or simply give you peace of mind, learn as much as you can and test it out so you’re comfortable with relying on it in the case of an emergency.

 Have questions about this or how other technologies impact victims of domestic violence? Reach out to us!

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Screen Recording on Apple iOS 11: Safety Features and Security Concerns

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Apple recently unveiled its newly updated operating system - iOS11 - for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The operating system offers a variety of new tools that will impact the lives of survivors of domestic violence. This two-part blog series will feature two of the new tools -  a screen recording feature and an Emergency SOS calling feature. In today’s blog, we will focus on the new screen recording tool.

As with most technologies, the iOS11 updates have potential to both help survivors, and to be misused by abusers. The screen record feature in iOS11 is a perfect example of a technology that has a mix of safety potential and privacy concerns.

While screen recording is new to iOS11, it isn’t actually a new feature for smartphones. Many devices that use Android operating systems have had the ability to record what’s happening on the screen for some time. Similarly, Apple users were able to record what was happening on the phone with a workaround that included plugging the phone into a computer. But while screen recording isn’t new, Apple has simplified the process, which means that survivors can now more easily record video of abusive behavior, like harassing text messages or threats made over video calls. (For more information on how to document abuse, check out our Documentation Tips resource.) Unfortunately, it also means it’s now easier for abusive people to make recordings that they can use maliciously as a tactic of abuse.

One major concern is that the new screen record button will allow individuals to secretly record Snaps sent using Snapchat. One of the primary selling points of sending a Snap is that it automatically disappears after a person sees it. Previously, the only way for someone who receives a Snap to keep a copy of it was to take a screenshot. To protect against privacy concerns related to screenshots, Snapchat created a feature that informs the sender if a screenshot was taken of their Snap. But the new screen record button is able to record Snaps without alerting the sender.

While this may help survivors of domestic violence document abusive Snaps, it can also be misused by an abusive person, particularly because many people use Snapchat to discuss sexual topics and share intimate images. If these images can be secretly captured, it’s more likely that an abusive person can keep them without the victim’s knowledge and later use the recordings to threaten, blackmail, or otherwise harm the sender.

IMPORTANT: Snapchat is attempting to fix the issue in its latest software update, but the screen record button will still be able to secretly record Snaps if the sender has not installed the latest version of Snapchat.  

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO STAY SAFE?

  • If you use Snapchat, make sure you have the latest update installed.
  • If you use an Apple device, learn how to use the screen record button after you install iOS11.
  • Learn more about documenting abusive behavior and talk to a local advocate if you think you’re experiencing abusive behavior (you can find services near you by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline).
  • If you’re trying to use the screen record button to record a Snap in order to document abusive behavior by the other person, just know that it’s possible that the other person may know you made a recording. We recommend being careful before recording abusive Snaps because it is possible that the abusive person could be made aware that you have recorded the abusive behavior, which may place you in danger.
  • Recording another person (in person, on the phone, or on a video call) is illegal in some states if you do not receive permission. If you do decide to use the recording feature to record another person, it is important that you comply with your state’s recording laws. Check here to learn about your state’s recording laws.

Also – always remember that it’s never ok for someone to take pictures or videos of you without your consent, coerce you to take and send images or videos, or keep images or videos you send in private when you have an expectation that they have been deleted. If you are concerned that somebody has inappropriately taken or retained pictures or videos of you, please contact us at safetynet@nnedv.org or reach out to the Cyberviolence Civil Rights Initiative.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

 

Safety Check

If you think your activities (online and offline) are being monitored, you are probably right. People who are abusive often want to know their victim’s every move and interaction. If this is something you’re experiencing, it’s important to think through how they might be tracking your online activity. These tips can help you think through how to access information online more safely:

  • Computers, mobile devices, and online accounts store a lot of private information about what you view online – the websites you visit (like this one), the things you search for, the emails and instant messages you send, the online videos you watch, the things you post on social media, the online phone or IP-TTY calls you make, your online banking and purchasing, and many others. 
  • If your mobile device or computer are easily accessible to the abuser, be careful how you use it. You may want to keep using those devices for activities that won’t trigger violence – like looking up the weather – and find safe devices (like a public computer at the library) to look up information about how to get help.
  • If the person who is abusive has access to your online accounts (social media, email, phone bill, etc), or has had access to them in the past, it is often helpful to update the usernames and passwords for those accounts from a safer device.
  • You can also set up a new email address that they aren’t aware of, and connect your online accounts to it (rather than the old email address they know). It can be helpful to make the new address something that is more anonymous, instead of using your actual name or a handle you are already known by.
  • Keep in mind, if you think you are being monitored, it might be dangerous to suddenly stop your online activity or stop them from accessing your accounts. You may want to keep using those devices or accounts for activities that won’t trigger violence – and find safer devices (like a public computer at the library) and accounts to look up information about how to get help, or to communicate with people privately.

 

  • Email, instant messaging and text messaging with domestic violence agencies leaves a detailed digital trail of your communication, and can increase the risk that your abuser will know not only that you communicated, but the details of what you communicated. When possible, it’s best to call a hotline. If you use email, instant messaging, or text messaging, try to do so on a device and account that the abuser doesn’t know about or have access to, and remember to erase any messages you don’t want the abusive partner to see.

Check out NNEDV’s Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit for Survivors for more important information.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

 

So, You Wanna Build an App? App Security

This post is part of the “So You Wanna Build an App” series. The other posts include: “What to Consider Before Developing an App,” “Know Your Audience,” and “Safety First.” This series is based on lessons we learned when developing the NNEDV Tech Safety App, and in reviewing dozens of apps created for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Our reviews can be found in the App Safety Center.

 In the “Safety First” post, we talked about how to minimize risks for users when you build the app. Another concern that app developers must be aware of is security—both security of the app itself and security of the data that the app collects from users.

Minimize User Data & Secure What You Store

User data can include anything from asking users to create an account with a username and password to asking users to upload and store evidence of abuse. The first step to data security is to only collect the information needed in order to provide the service. Don’t ask for data you don’t need. For example, some apps require users to create an account when there is no obvious need for an account. Other apps require access to information on the device, such as the user’s contact list and calendar, even when that information has no relevance to the functionality of the app.

Also remember that some types of data are more sensitive than others. Sensitive data includes personally identifying information like name, birthdate, location, health/mental health information, and documentation of abuse. The exposure of sensitive data can have dangerous consequences for the survivor if it’s discovered by the abuser. For this reason, securing sensitive data from unintentional disclosure is crucial.

Develop your app in a way that doesn’t require users to share personal information, or that offers users multiple ways they can opt into or out of sharing personal information. For example, some safety apps allow users to contact someone through the app. Develop the app in a way that lets the user manually type in the contact information, rather than requiring that the app be connected to their contact list. Also remember - if your app is designed so that it can inform 2 or 3 contacts when the survivor needs help, the app does not need access to the entire address book. This is also helpful, because some users may want to input a safety contact, such as their domestic violence advocate or private attorney, who isn’t in their contact list.

App Security

For apps that collect no or minimal data from their users, the security issues are more about the app itself. Some apps are built to function fully on the device, where all the content is accessible via the downloaded app. Other apps require users to retrieve information online. Depending on how the online content is hosted, if someone was covertly watching the internet traffic, they might be able to find out the names of the websites and other content that’s being accessed. Think about where your online content is hosted and how that information is retrieved. As an example, in order to protect survivors, all of the videos on our Tech Safety App are hosted on a secure server, and the files are named in a way that obscures what they are in case someone is covertly watching the internet traffic.

Have a Security Framework and Policy

Anytime you ask users to share personal information with you, you need to know (and let them know) how you’ll keep that data secure. The security framework should encompass every level of engagement – from the time they share their information (account creation, uploading/downloading content) to when you store that information (on secure and encrypted servers) to how (and how often) you destroy content. Your security policy should be clear, and posted where users can easily review. It should also be very clear about when and how you might share their information with third parties such as law enforcement or courts.

Educate Users on Security

If your app encourages people to use third-party cloud storage like Dropbox to store personal information gathered via your app, provide tips and education on good security practices. Where appropriate, teach users to use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. The better they understand the risks, and how to minimize those risks, the better they can navigate them and develop stronger safety strategies.

Thanks for reading this blog series! If you’re still curious for more, you can find great information on our website:

·       Technology Safety and Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors

·       Agency’s Use of Technology: Best Practices & Policies

·       App Safety Center

Speaking of apps – check out NNEDV’s Tech Safety App! DC-based company 3Advance developed the CMS infrastructure and created the multi-platform mobile apps to bring to life the NNEDV Tech Safety App. If you’re an app developer or a victim service provider working with an app developer, be sure to check out our Considerations for App Developers resource!

So, You Wanna Build an App? Safety First

This post is part of the “So You Wanna Build an App” series. The other posts include: “What to Consider Before Developing an App,” “Know Your Audience,” and “App Security.” This series is based on lessons we learned when developing the NNEDV Tech Safety App, and in reviewing dozens of apps created for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Our reviews can be found in the App Safety Center.

Minimizing safety risks for victims of abuse who use your app is a daunting but crucial process. Remember that survivors may be in crisis, in danger, or have someone monitoring their device when they’re using your app. This post discusses how you can address and minimize some of these safety risks.

Your App Could Be a Safety Risk

Victims of abuse are most at risk when they attempt to leave their abusive partner or try to limit the abuser’s control. Simply having a safety app on their device could indicate that the victim is seeking information or help, and the abuser could escalate his/her control and abuse. While you can’t remove that risk entirely, it’s important to consider ways you can address and minimize those risks.

Inform the User

The first step is to inform the user of possible dangers and risks they might face if they download your app. Some survivors may be aware that their devices are being monitored and know to be careful about what they download, but others may have never thought that about risk before, and may not have considered that the abuser may see the app and discover that they are seeking help.

This reminder should take place before they download the app. It should be noted in the app store description, and in other places that describe the app. For example, the Tech Safety App provides notices about potential monitoring by abusive partners and suggests that users only access the app from a safer device. These notices are available on the app’s informational website, in the app description in both the Apple App & Google Play stores, and as part of the onboarding process after someone downloads the app. These reminders both inform potential users of the related risks when downloading the app, and encourages them to wait until they are on a safer device.

Other Safety Strategies That May or May Not Work

·       Quick Escape – Most websites for survivors of abuse have a “Quick Escape” or “Exit” button so that they can leave the site quickly if they’re worried that someone is monitoring their internet use. However, this can be a challenge for apps, since having an exit button can take up valuable screen space. It’s also unnecessary because it’s often very easy to quickly close an app. Since building an “Exit” button throughout an app isn’t practical, the best way to inform users of possible monitoring is to inform them before they download the app.

·       Disguised Apps – Some apps have been designed to look like something else, such as a news app or a calculator, but are actually apps to help domestic violence or sexual assault survivors. While it might be helpful for the icon to be disguised so that it doesn’t raise the suspicions of an abusive partner, there can also be significant challenges with this strategy. The Apple App Store doesn’t allow these types of apps, or they require an explanation of what the app actually is in the app description, which may defeat the purpose of it being disguised. App users also won’t be able to find the app unless they know exactly what it’s called and what the icon looks like. If the icon changes as a part of the update process and the survivor doesn’t notice, this may make the app hard to find, or may lead to accidental deletions. Survivors may also forget the fake name if they download the app and don’t use it regularly, making it difficult to find in a time of crisis.  Moreover, if someone happens to open the app on the phone, they’ll know that it isn’t whatever the app is pretending to be.

In some cases, app developers may actually build the disguised app and hide domestic violence/sexual assault content within the app. While this might minimize the risk of someone opening the app and immediately seeing the domestic violence/sexual assault content, it might be harder for users to access hidden content easily and quickly.

·       Passwords – Some apps will use a password to protect the app (or parts of the app) so that only someone with the password can access it. This strategy does work to a certain extent, particularly if there’s private or sensitive information the survivor wants to keep protected in case someone goes through the device. Just keep in mind that a password protected app might raise the suspicions of the abusive person if he or she is used to having full control over the device. This strategy might be best for someone whose abuser generally doesn’t have access to the device, but who wants additional privacy protection for the information she/he is accessing or storing. Having this as a security option rather than a default setting can be helpful for survivors, because it lets them individualize the app based on their unique circumstances.

Be Aware of Unintentional Access to App Content

There are many ways that app content can be accessed without the knowledge of the survivor, simply by the way the device may be connected to other technologies. For example, some devices are set up to automatically connect to smart TVs, speakers, or cars via Bluetooth. If your app contains multimedia, build the app so that files don’t automatically start playing when the device connects to a speaker or other technology. Also consider naming multimedia files in a way that doesn’t reveal anything if someone happens to see the file name on a media player.

Safety and Privacy When Collecting Sensitive Information

Some safety apps encourage users to store personal information either on the app itself or to the cloud via the app. This might include contact information, a journal logging the abuse, and photographic/video/audio evidence of abuse. It’s critical that users of these apps are notified of the related safety risks involved in storing information this way. If the information is stored on the device, users should be warned that anyone with access to the device might be able to see the content.

Additionally, if your app collects and stores any private information connected to its users, you should have a privacy and security policy that clearly explains what information the app is collecting, why it is being collected, and who has access to it. If your app is using a third-party service to store the information, or if it shares the information with another company, it’s vital to let users know how to find that third-party’s privacy and security policies.

In cases where personal information is being stored on the user’s own cloud-based service, such as Dropbox, they should be notified of the related privacy and security risks. Many users don’t know how easily cloud-based services can be accessed. If the abusive person knows the victim’s password or has access to a device the account syncs with, all of the information stored could be easily accessed, manipulated, or deleted. If your app encourages users to use their personal cloud storage service, provide them with information about how they can increase their privacy and security when using these services.

Speaking of apps – check out NNEDV’s Tech Safety App! DC-based company 3Advance developed the CMS infrastructure and created the multi-platform mobile apps to bring to life the NNEDV Tech Safety App. If you’re an app developer or a victim service provider working with an app developer, be sure to check out our Considerations for App Developers resource!

So, You Wanna Build an App? Know Your Audience

This post is part of the “So You Wanna Build an App” series. The other posts include: “What to Consider Before Developing an App,” “Safety First,” and “App Security.” This series is based on lessons we learned when developing the NNEDV Tech Safety App, and in reviewing dozens of apps created for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Our reviews can be found in the App Safety Center.

 If you’re building an app for survivors of abuse, your mantra should always be: first, do no harm. Survivors of abuse may be using your app in the middle of a crisis, or while looking for help to escape a violent situation. Although you can’t predict how someone will use your app, you can minimize harm by building an app that takes the unique needs of your audience into consideration. Below are some tips for doing just that.

Don’t Create a False Sense of Security

Because survivors may rely on your app to help them find safety or to get time-critical information, the app needs to work as it’s intended. Unfortunately, many apps that have been created for survivors are so complex they often don’t work the way the designers intended. We tested dozens of apps whose sole promise was to locate a victim when they’re in danger, but many of them didn’t always show exact location. Sometimes it was off by a few houses and sometimes it was off by a few miles. If your app promises personal security and safety as a key function, you have to make sure it works accurately every time, and in every environment (rural/suburban/urban).

Don’t Overpromise

Carefully market your app, and be sure not to imply that it does more than it’s actually able to. We’ve seen many safety apps created for victims of abuse that are marketed with claims that are blatantly false, and that (unethically) try to appeal to the victim’s need for safety. Some of these marketing ploys include: “#1 Prevention of Sexual Assault!”, “You’ll never be in danger again,” and “It’s like having a police officer in your pocket.” Even though the developers may have had good intentions, not only are these claims unrealistic, they can be dangerous if someone were to accept them as true.

Such claims may keep the user from thinking through other safety measures they could take. If users believe that your app is the only safety strategy they need, you’ve likely created a false sense of security that can result in unintended danger to the victim. Moreover, if someone has the app and does get assaulted, it can contribute to victim blaming – accusations that the victim had a safety app that could have prevented the assault, if only they’d used it properly. Simply put: don’t tell victims the app will keep them safe. There is no app that can stop an abusive partner from trying to harm their victim – the only thing that can stop that from happening are abusers themselves.

Be Accurate About Your Information

Because the app is created for someone who might be in danger, make sure that the information in your app is accurate. Resources should link to accurate phone numbers or websites, and be appropriate for your intended audience. For example, if your app is for victims of domestic violence, list local domestic violence programs in the resources section, rather than listing general health services. Remember that even if your app is meant for a specific location (such as your city) or population (such as teens), anyone can download the app, so resources should be applicable to all users (you can include the National Hotline in addition to the local hotline numbers), or clearly state who can use the resources. Double and triple check the information you’ve listed (websites, phone numbers, and other contact information) to make sure it’s correct, and make this a part of your ongoing maintenance plan.

Be Accurate in Your Language

If you don’t have expertise in the dynamics of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, work with experts in those respective fields to develop your content and to ensure your language is correct and appropriate. Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all very nuanced issues. Users of your app could be in a traumatized state of mind when they’re using your app, and your content needs to be sensitive. Victims may not yet have the words or definitions to explain what they’re experiencing, and the way you describe it may have a major impact on their understanding. Work with domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking victim experts to help you write content that is appropriate.

 Speaking of apps – check out NNEDV’s Tech Safety App! DC-based company 3Advance developed the CMS infrastructure and created the multi-platform mobile apps to bring to life the NNEDV Tech Safety App. If you’re an app developer or a victim service provider working with an app developer, be sure to check out our Considerations for App Developers resource!

 

So, You Wanna Build an App? What to Consider Before Developing an App

This is the first post in a series for victim service providers who are considering developing an app. In this post, we’ll talk about whether an app is the right platform for what your agency wants to do. The next posts will be: “Know Your Audience,” “Safety First,” and “App Security.” This series is based on lessons we learned when developing the NNEDV Tech Safety App in reviewing dozens of apps created for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Our reviews can be found in the App Safety Center

As more survivors are using smartphones and downloading apps, many local domestic violence and sexual assault programs are considering whether they should build an app. There are many reasons why they might want to—apps give users immediate access to information and can harness built-in features of smartphones (like GPS), giving additional safety tools to survivors. However, before starting the development process, there are lots of things to think about. This series discusses key issues and concerns programs should consider before developing an app.

Is an App the Best Format?

It’s important before developing an app to assess if it’s really the best medium for what you want to accomplish. There are many innovative ways to distribute information without developing an app (like websites, podcasts, and videos, to name a few). Another reason why you might want to develop an app is because what you want to accomplish requires the unique benefits smartphones and tablets offer, like GPS, messaging, video cameras, and audio recorders. Or perhaps your goal is to make use of the immediacy apps offer. Most people have their phones with them all the time, so if you want to create something that will be at someone’s fingertips anytime they need it, an app may be the way to go.

Is Your Idea Unique?

So now that you’ve looked at whether an app is the best way to help you accomplish your goal, it’s time to find out if your idea already exists. Even though you may think your app is unique, take the time to do some research and check the app stores to see if similar tools already exist. Creating an app is a very resource intensive process (as you’ll find out in the paragraphs below), so the one you want to build should be different or add new value to what’s already out there. If it doesn’t, consider holding off or going back to the drawing board.

Will the App be Useful?

Your primary goal shouldn’t be to build a cool, new tool (though of course those are important characteristics), it should be to create a useful resource for survivors. To do that, you’ll need to evaluate whether survivors will find your app useful. You can do this by talking to potential users and asking what it is they would find helpful in an app - organizing a focus group is ideal. By doing this, you can identify what will be important for survivors (again, ensuring that it’s not something that already exists, or can actually be done easier in a different format).

Apps are Expensive & Require Ongoing Maintenance

Creating apps—the good ones, anyway—can be an expensive undertaking. To build an effective, functional, and useful app, you could spend more money than what you’d pay to create a new website, implement a communications campaign, or in some cases even hire a new staff person. Building an app is more than just coming up with the content that goes into it. You’re building a product that requires the work of engineers, designers, and project managers with specific expertise.

Depending on what you want your app to do, you’ll need to factor in the costs of your staff’s time, developer fees, and app management/upkeep expenses. (As a reference point, in building our Tech Safety App our development team included an iOS developer, an Android developer, a database builder, a graphic designer, and a project manager.) And that’s just what it takes to create the app.

Apps also require a commitment to ongoing maintenance and regular software updates. The level of maintenance an app will need depends on the kind of app you create. Each time there’s a major operating system update to iOS, Android, or any other platform your app is available on, you’ll need to roll out a new update to keep it working.

The Key to it All

Most importantly, any app that is intended to be used by survivors should prioritize safety and privacy. If your app creates safety or privacy risks for survivors, those risks will likely outweigh any potential benefit, and could potentially put survivors in danger. To learn more about how to prioritize privacy and safety in the app you create, be sure to check out our upcoming posts in this series: “Know Your Audience,” “Safety First,” and “App Security.”

Speaking of apps – check out  NNEDV Tech Safety App If you’re an app developer or a victim service provider working with an app developer, be sure to check out our  Considerations for App Developers! **

It’s a Wrap!! Another Successful Tech Summit in the Books!

Last week we welcomed almost 300 people to our 5th Annual Technology Summit in San Francisco. For four days we laughed, strategized, and built new ways to think and talk about how privacy and tech safety impact the lives of survivors of abuse and harassment.

We had over 30 brilliant and passionate presenters from around the world, including representatives from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Uber, Mozilla, and Niantic. A wide array of content was presented, such as: the Internet of Things, the intersection between technology and human trafficking, cutting edge technology legislation, online gaming and dating, teens and tech, innovative uses of technology to address abuse, and many more.

In addition to our world class presenters, this year we had our largest group of participants ever, including from partner agencies in Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, and Canada. Technologists, advocates, lawyers, and survivors enriched the conversation as participants and presenters. Many participants came from programs providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, non-residential services, and crucial legal assistance. Others teach coding and tech skills to survivors to help them gain financial freedom. All of them make a difference every day.

Throughout the conference, participants discussed all aspects of Technology Safety for survivors, including:
·         How abusers misuse tech,
·         How survivors can strategically use tech to maintain their safety and privacy,
·         How agencies can use tech to increase accessibility and ensure privacy, and
·         The importance of designing technology with survivors in mind.

At NNEDV we work and play hard, and the 2017 Tech Summit was no different. Receptions, dinners, snacks, networking opportunities, and informal discussions provided a chance for participants and presenters to connect and collaborate. Tech Summit is ultimately a tech conference, so we also had ample time to try out tech, including learning how to opt-out of data brokers at our Opt-Out Station and testing out the virtual gaming system, Oculus.

We are thrilled that the conference was a success and we look forward to taking back many great ideas on how to make next year’s conference even better. The conference was filled with ideas on how technology safety can improve the lives of survivors of abuse and harassment. We are excited to provide that information in the coming year through technical assistance, new written materials, and our ever expanding training catalogue.

We are already gearing up for Tech Summit 2018, so send along ideas for what you want to see in 2018! If you were unable to join us for Tech Summit this year, you can see a little of the fun by looking at the Program Book, checking out our Storify and Twitter Moment feeds, or by searching for #TechSummit17 and #TechSafetyMeans: 
·         On Twitter: #TechSummit17 and #TechSafetyMeans
·         On Instagram: #TechSummit17 and #TechSafetyMeans
·         On Facebook:  #TechSummit17 and #TechSafetyMeans

¡¡La App de Seguridad Tecnológica: ¡Actualizada y Ahora en Español!! / Updated Tech Safety App Launches in Spanish!!

¡Estamos muy emocionados/as de anunciar el lanzamiento de la versión en español de la App de Seguridad Tecnológica! Esta app educativa móvil les explica a sus usuarios/as cómo las formas particulares de tecnología pueden ser abusadas para acosar y acechar a alguien, lo que se puede hacer cuando suceda y cómo mejorar la seguridad y la privacidad.

La versión actualizada ahora tiene todo el contenido, incluyendo el texto y el audio, en español. También es más accesible, según las recomendaciones de usuarios/as del Instituto de Justicia Vera que la probaron, a quienes les agradecemos muchísimo por su apoyo durante el proceso de pruebas. También hay una versión nueva de la app en un sitio web para que haya acceso a todo el contenido de la app en línea, algo que le puede ser especialmente útil si alguien no cree que sea una opción segura para él/ella descargar la app. Además, la app ahora está optimizada para tabletas para una mejor experiencia en la pantalla más grande.

Esta app educativa y de recursos explora seis categorías: el acoso, la suplantación de identidad, la seguridad de los teléfonos celulares, la seguridad de los aparatos, la seguridad y la localización y la seguridad en línea. Bajo cada categoría, se proporciona más información con explicaciones específicas sobre lo que alguien puede hacer si están siendo acosado/a y sugerencias sobre la privacidad que se ofrecen para aumentar la privacidad y la seguridad. La app también incluye recursos adicionales sobre la cómo documentar el abuso, hablar con un/a intercesor/a en un programa de violencia doméstica, contactar a la policía, conseguir a un/a abogado/a y adónde llamar para conseguir ayuda.

La App de Seguridad Tecnológica fue creada por el Proyecto Red de Seguridad de NNEDV, que tiene más de 15 años de experiencia trabajando en la intersección de tecnología, seguridad y abuso. Red de Seguridad les ha proporcionado consejo experto, capacitaciones y consultas sobre este asunto a miles de sobrevivientes de abuso, proveedores/as de servicios para víctimas y compañías de tecnología. Esta app es otra manera de poner información en manos de sobrevivientes y añadir una versión en español con más accesibilidad les ayudará a más sobrevivientes y profesionales a utilizarla. La App de Seguridad Tecnológica fue creada con fondos de la Oficina para Víctimas de Crimen (OVC) de la Oficina de Programas de Justicia de la Iniciativa Visión 21 del Departamento de Justicia. 3Advance, basado en DC, desarrolló la infraestructura de CMS y creó las apps móviles multi-plataformas.

Si cree que alguien está monitoreando su teléfono o tableta, en vez de descargar la app, es mejor conseguir acceso a la información de manera más segura en línea. También hay una versión de la app en un sitio web en www.techsafetyapp.com donde es posible leer todo el contenido de la app en línea, algo que le podría ser especialmente útil si cree que descargar la app no es una opción segura. Para más información sobre la app, visite TechSafetyApp.org. También se puede encontrar información legal sobre estados específicos e información sobre la inmigración federal en español e inglés en WomensLaw.org.

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We are excited to announce the release of the Spanish language version of the Tech Safety App! This educational mobile app walks users through how particular forms of technology could be misused to harass and stalk someone, what can be done about it, and how to enhance safety and privacy.

The updated version now has all content, including both text and audio, in Spanish. It also has increased accessibility, based on recommendations from test users from the Vera Institute of Justice, who we thank profusely for their support throughout the testing process. There is also a new website version of the app so the entire app content can be accessed online, which is especially helpful if someone does not believe that downloading the app is a safe option for them. Additionally, the app is now tablet-optimized for better experience on the larger display.

This educational and resource app explores six categories: harassment, impersonation, cellphone safety, device safety, location safety, and online safety. Under each category, more information is provided with specific explanations about what someone can do if they are being harassed, and privacy tips are offered that can be used to increase privacy and security. The app also includes additional resources on documenting abuse, talking with an advocate at a domestic violence program, contacting police, getting an attorney, and where to call for help.

The Tech Safety App was created by NNEDV Safety Net Project, which has more than 15 years of experience working on the intersection of technology, safety, and abuse. Safety Net has 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, and adding a Spanish-language version and increasing accessibility will enable more survivors and professionals to use it. The Tech Safety App was funded by Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice Vision 21 Initiative. DC-based 3Advance developed the CMS infrastructure, and created the multi-platform mobile apps.

If you believe that your phone or tablet may be monitored by someone else, take caution before downloading the app and access the information online in a safer way. There is also a website version of the app at www.techsafetyapp.com where you can access the entire app content online, which is especially helpful if you believe downloading the app is not a safe option. For more information about the app, visit TechSafetyApp.org. You can also find state-specific legal information for survivors and federal immigration information in Spanish and English on WomensLaw.org.

This app was funded through award #2014-VF-GX-K017 from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of DOJ.

To Us, #TechSafetyMeans…

Technology allows us to quickly and easily connect with other people. Technology can be a valuable resource for survivors, granting them access to information, resources, emergency services, and networks of support. However, technology is also often misused by perpetrators to stalk, harass, and control victims. For example, offenders can manipulate technology to track and stalk victims. They can also install spyware on survivors’ devices to secretly monitor and harass them. By hacking or inappropriately accessing a survivor’s webcam, hard drive, or online accounts, abusers can gain access to personal information which can be used to locate the survivor or as blackmail.

The Safety Net project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) addresses the intersection of technology and domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and dating violence. Since technology permeates many aspects of our lives, we at NNEDV strive to ensure that survivors and advocates can utilize technology safely, effectively, and securely.

To us, #TechSafetyMeans...

  • Supporting survivors at the local level.
  • Making connections and serving survivors through strong statewide networks.
  • Advocating for privacy and digital safety at the national level in government, with tech companies, and other allied agencies.
  • Ensuring survivors know how to safeguard their privacy and maintain safety on all their devices.
  • Creating communities where perpetrators cannot use technology to their advantage.
  • Advocating for change that benefits all survivors!