Addressing Technology Misuse in the Context of Sexual Assault

Two new resources from Safety Net discuss Technology Misuse in Sexual Assault, and offer advocates and others working with survivors a tool for Assessing Technology Misuse and Privacy Concerns.

As technology becomes woven into every aspect of society, offenders misuse the technology in sexual assault. Just as the dynamics of sexual assault differ from domestic violence, the misuse of technology looks different when sexual assault occurs outside of an intimate partner relationship.

  • A youth group leader might misuse online communities to groom victims.
  • A supervisor might threaten to change an employee’s file in a company database.
  • A caretaker might limit access to help-seeking through technology.
  • A medical provider might threaten to share embarrassing information or images gathered in the course of treatment.
  • Surveillance cameras and security could be misused by a landlord to gain footage of or access to a victim.
  • A law enforcement officer could misuse a database to target potential victims.

More understood examples include the explosion in the production and sharing of child pornography, or nonconsensual sharing of intimate images or footage of sexual assault of adults over the Internet.

Privacy Concerns

In addition, sexual assault cases in the public eye can generate distressing comments on news stories and social media, and some survivors may become the target of online harassment, doxing or other retaliation.

Technology and Root Causes

Online spaces amplify existing attitudes and beliefs, and so can support rape culture through memes, viral posts, revenge porn sites, etc. At the same time, online advocacy and activism efforts have used online spaces to counter rape culture through awareness, events, bystander intervention and more.

NNEDV Resource Highlight: Safety on Social Media

Social Media Harassment
Online Harassment

It’s Social Media Day!

 

Technology, including social media, has a major impact on survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and dating violence. While it can be used to access resources, remain connected to family and friends, and hold offenders accountable, it can also be misused by perpetrators to abuse, harass, stalk, and harm victims. 

NNEDV’s Safety Net project provides resources for survivors to recognize signs of technology-facilitated abuse, increase safety online, and learn about legal actions that can be taken against technology misuse.

Learn more about the ways that survivors can increase safety on social media:

When in doubt, download our Tech Safety App! 

The Tech Safety App helps users identify and address technology-facilitated abuse, including the misuse of social media. Download it from Google Play and the iTunes App Store – it’s free! (We will also be launching a Spanish version of this app in July!)

If you have additional questions about helping survivors stay safe on social media – or any other technology safety questions, please reach out to our Safety Net team: safetynet@nnedv.org.

Do I REALLY Need to Worry About My Password? (Spoiler Alert: Yes!)

red padlock with a heart etched on it

Passwords have become such a regular part of our daily lives that it’s easy to forget about the importance of making sure they’re secure. We generally only think about password security when we’ve gotten a notice that one of our accounts has been compromised, or when we’ve forgotten our current password and have to make a new one. Rather than seeing them as a main line of defense against prying eyes, it’s easy to get into the habit of just being annoyed that we need them in the first place. 

This month, we’re taking a fresh look at password security, and the particular ways that survivors of domestic violence can use password security to protect their privacy and increase their safety. Check out our new resource “Passwords: Simple Ways to Increase Your Security” to learn more!

Protecting Victim Privacy While Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency: Finding the Balance with Police Data Initiatives

One of the hallmark efforts of the outgoing Obama administration has been the Police Data Initiative, launched to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. The Police Data Initiative encourages local law enforcement agencies to publicly share information about 911 calls, stops, arrests, and other police activities so that community members can look both at individual cases, as in some high-profile events covered by the media, and at trends that might reveal disproportionate response over time.

It has been more than two decades since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed, and we have seen significant improvements in the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This success is due in great part to the efforts of victim advocates and law enforcement officials working together to improve systems. But as we celebrate these successes, we know this work is far from finished, and that there is still much work to be done to improve police response - particularly within marginalized communities.

As we work with law enforcement to improve responses to victims and communities, we must ensure that the privacy and safety of victims who interact with law enforcement is a fundamental cornerstone of those efforts. Police data released to the public has the potential to reveal victims’ identities and consequently put them at risk of further harm, harassment, or damage to their reputation. These concerns can also significantly impact a survivor’s decision on whether they even contact law enforcement for help in an emergency.

For more than a year, Safety Net has explored the issue of how to maintain victim privacy and safety while simultaneously supporting the overall intention behind the Police Data Initiative. These efforts have been made possible by the support of the Office on Violence Against Women (U.S. Department of Justice) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and in partnership with the White House, the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Vera Institute of Justice, and others.

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of a guide that outlines the results of these efforts titled, “How Law Enforcement Agencies Releasing Open Data Can Protect Victim Privacy & Safety”, which was authored collaboratively with the Police Foundation. This guide describes the need for victim privacy to be a central consideration in efforts to share data with the public, and provides specific recommendations that will assist local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to ensure victim privacy while increasing transparency.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing a similar guide written for advocates, as well as an issue summary that describes how the Police Data Initiative intersects with our work to ensure the safety and privacy of survivors.

 

YouTube’s New Tools Attempt to Address Online Harassment

Online harassment and abuse can take many forms. Threating and hateful comments turn up across online communities from newspapers to blogs to social media. Anyone posting online can be the target of these comments, which cross the line from honest disagreement to vengeful and violent attacks. This behavior is more than someone saying something you don’t like or saying something “mean” – it often includes ongoing harassment that can be nasty, personal, or threatening in nature. For survivors of abuse, threatening comments can be traumatizing, frightening, and can lead some people to not participate in online spaces.

YouTube recently created new tools to combat online abuse occurring within comments. These tools let users who post on their site choose words or phrases to “blacklist” as well as the option to use a beta (or test) version of a filter that will flag potentially inappropriate comments. With both tools, the comments are held for the user’s approval before going public. Users can also select other people to help moderate the comments.

Here’s a summary of the tools, pulled from YouTube:

  • Choose Moderators: This was launched earlier in the year and allows users to give select people they trust the ability to remove public comments.
  • Blacklist Words and Phrases: Users can have comments with select words or phrases held back from being posted until they are approved.
  • Hold Potentially Inappropriate Comments for Review: Currently available in beta, this feature offers an automated system that will flag and hold, according to YouTube’s algorithm, any potentially inappropriate comments for approval before they are published. The algorithm may, of course, pull content that the user thinks is fine, but it will improve in its detection based on the users’ choices.

Survivors who post online know that abusive comments can come in by the hundreds or even thousands. While many sites have offered a way to report or block comments, these steps have only been available after a comment is already public, and each comment may have to be reported one by one. This new approach helps to catch abusive comments before they go live, and takes the pressure off of having to watch the comment feed 24 hours a day.

These tools also offer survivors a means to be proactive in protecting their information and safety. Since many online harassment includes tactics such as doxing (where personal information of someone is posted online with the goal of causing them harm), a YouTube user can add their personal information to the list of words and phrases that are not allowed to be posted. This can include part or all of phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, or usernames of other accounts. Proactively being able to block someone from posting your personal content in this space will be a great tool.

Everyone has the right to express themselves safely online, and survivors should be able to fully participate in online spaces. Connecting with family and friends online helps protect against the isolation that many survivors experience. These new tools can help to protect survivors’ voices online.

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!

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!

Stop. Think. Connect.

The internet is such a big part of our lives. We bank, shop, watch movies, read the news, play games, and do a lot more. We also share a lot about ourselves online, whether it’s letting Sephora (and every online targeted advertiser) know that you're currently looking for the perfect lipstick (which I found, by the way!) or sharing selfies of said perfect lipstick on Facebook. The internet knows a lot about us – just Google yourself. You might be surprised at how well-known you actually are.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). For survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, online security and safety is imperative; but it’s also important for everyone. One of the theme for NCSAM is STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Before you connect online, stop, and think about your privacy and security. Who’s going to see that selfie on Facebook? Is your connection secure when you type in your credit card information on Sephora’s website? (Tip: Check your Facebook privacy settings, and make sure you’re using an HTTPS connection when sharing sensitive financial information.)

To honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month and National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we’ve put together a series of videos on Online Privacy & Safety. Below is today’s video, and for the next four days, we’ll be releasing a new video in this series (check back here daily or follow NNEDV on social media to see them all!). They’re short and sweet, and we hope they will be helpful.

·        Online Privacy & Safety - Introduction

·        Creating an Account

·        Security Settings

·        Privacy Settings

·        Facebook Privacy, Security & Safety

Meanwhile, if you want more tips on surfing the internet safely, check out:

“Online Privacy & Safety” section in our Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors

National Cyber Security Awareness Month’s Tips

3 Simple Questions To Determine Which Safety App is Right for You

Many apps on the market have been specifically designed to help users communicate their safety needs in an emergency. These are referred to as safety apps and they use the cell phone’s location, text messages, alarms, video/camera features, and other alert options.

As more of these safety apps become available, one of the questions we get a lot is: "Which safety app should I use?" And we wish we can say: "Use this one!" However, we can’t because which app you choose depends on a lot of things. In fact, we wrote a handout on things to consider when selecting a safety app. Still, many people ask us: "But can’t you just tell me which one to use?" To narrow it down, we’ve created 3 simple questions to get you started.

What do you want the safety app to do?

Do you want an easy way to notify your friends or family if you’re in danger? Would you prefer to connect with authorities in an emergency? Or are you looking for basic information about domestic violence or resources local to you that can help? Most apps have a different purposes and determining what you want is the first step.

Does the app meet your needs?

Is the app easy to use or make it easier for you to do something? Remember, the purpose of an app is to make life easier. If it actually makes it harder for you to do something, then just stick with what’s easiest. It might be faster to call your friend than to find the app among all the other apps on your phone, find the right screen, tap it three times, darn—tapped the wrong area, tap again, only for it to send a cryptic message that might confuse your friend.

Does the app truly do what it says it will?

This is where you should test the app to see if it works the way it says it will. For example, some apps will send your location to your safety contacts if you’re in danger. Test it. Did it do that? Was the location accurate? This step is critical if you’re using a safety app for communicating in a potential emergency. Test this app with friends and family before you’re in danger and with friends and family who uses different types of devices. Some apps work more accurately on one platform versus another.

These three questions will get you started in determining if it’s the right app for you. Of course, if you’re a survivor or someone who is concerned about your privacy and want to be thorough, check out our handout on Choosing & Using Apps: Considerations for Survivors. But if that’s tl;dr, start with these 3 questions.

You can also read our reviews on select apps too. We’ve downloaded them and tested them, and we offer a pretty thorough assessment on each of them. Ultimately, however, whether an app is right for you is up to you. (Just make sure it works and that it’s what you want!)

10 Steps to a More Secure Password

Today is World Password Day, and a reminder that you should change your password. Passwords are used for almost everything we do these days because, without a password, anyone can get into all your stuff: your phone, email, bank account, social media, etc. 

Here are some tips on how to create a secure password:

  1. Pick a password that will be hard for someone else to guess.
  2. Use different passwords for different accounts.
  3. Best passwords are longer than 8 characters and contain numbers and symbols.
  4. Keep your passwords simple, so you can remember it. 
  5. Share your password with no one. 
  6. Use 2-step verification/authentication (where you use your password as well as a code that's sent to your phone or email). 
  7. Uncheck the “remember me” or “keep me logged in” feature. 
  8. Always remember to log off. 
  9. Change your password often (today, for instance, on World Password Day!).
  10. Be strategic with secret questions and answers.

For more explanation on these tips, check out our handout on Password: Simple Ways to Increase Your Security.