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 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 También se puede encontrar información legal sobre estados específicos e información sobre la inmigración federal en español e inglés en


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 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 You can also find state-specific legal information for survivors and federal immigration information in Spanish and English on

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!

What’s the Deal with Snap Map?

snap map image

Snapchat recently released a new feature called Snap Map. It was immediately met with a flurry of negative feedback and concerns for user privacy and safety. As with any technology, device, platform, or service, new features can have an unexpected impact on user safety and privacy. The following is our assessment of potential privacy issues and possibilities for misuse within Snap Map.

The Snap Map feature allows users to share their location with other friends on Snapchat and to share Snaps on a map. The ability for others to see your location can definitely sound a little creepy, particularly if you’re concerned about your privacy. While there are a few things to consider and be aware of to protect your privacy, there are also a few features that make us a little less worried about Snap Map.

1.     The user controls the feature, and therefore controls their privacy.
Snap Map is an opt-in feature, not an opt-out feature; meaning it is off by default until a user chooses to turn it on. Opt-in by default is an important safety feature, but it is noteworthy that a person with access to the account could still turn on location sharing without the account owner’s knowledge. Because of this, it’s important that users know how to find the location sharing setting so that they can check to see if someone has turned it on without their permission.

2.     Users also control the audience, even if the feature is on.
If you choose to use Snap Map, you can keep it in Ghost Mode. Ghost Mode means that your location isn’t shared with anyone at all, but that you are able to see yourself on the map. You can also choose between sharing your location with all of your friends, or with just a few select friends. Ghost Mode is the default setting when you have opted into using the Snap Map feature, that way you don’t share your location with anyone unless you choose to, even if you open the feature to check it out. If you decide to no longer share your location, even with a few selected friends, you last location is removed from the map.

3.     Submitted Snaps don’t show username, but images can still be identifying.
You can submit a Snap to “Our Story” to be shared on the Snap Map, although not all submitted Snaps are accepted to be on the Snap Map. Ones that are accepted do not show the username of the person who submitted it, but it will show up on the Snap Map at or near your location. Certain information in the Snap could make it more identifying (signs or landmarks can identify exact location, and clothing or tattoos can identify a person, even if their face isn’t shown). Also, users should be aware that Snaps submitted to “Our Story” may show on Snap Map regardless of their chosen location setting. This is important to consider, especially if other people are in your Snaps and you don’t have their permission to share.

4.     Notifications for the win!
We are always fans of user notifications when there is a feature that could be a potential safety and privacy risk. Snapchat will send reminders if location sharing has been left on for a period of time; making sure that users know their location is being shared. These notifications can also greatly decrease the chance that someone could turn on someone else’s Snap Map without their knowledge.

5.     When you’re sharing, you’re always sharing.
It’s really important to understand that once you opt-in and choose an audience to share your location with, that audience will continually be able to see your updated location every time you open the app, whether or not you are engaging with them or sending anyone a Snap. This might be the biggest concern, since if people don’t clearly understand this they may inadvertently share their location without realizing it.

Overall, Snap Map definitely makes it easier for people to share—and to receive—information about another person’s location. As with similar features on other platforms, users should be cautious and make informed, thoughtful decisions on how to protect their privacy; including if, when, and how they use it. It’s also really important to consider the privacy of others. You might not know what could be a safety or privacy risk for each of your friends, so you should never share images, videos, or location information about others without their consent. The good news is that this feature does have some built-in privacy options and gives users control over what is shared. Learn more about manage your location settings in Snap Map and check out SnapChat’s Approach to Privacy

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:

Safety Net Project's International Work Expands

We are thrilled to announce a new international partnership! The Safety Net Project is teaming up with a coalition of domestic violence programs in the Netherlands to assist in building and launching SafetyNED - a national project focused on supporting online privacy and security for victims of domestic violence.

Next week, NNEDV’s Executive Vice President and founder of NNEDV’s Safety Net Project Cindy Southworth and Safety Net Technology Safety Specialist Corbin Streett will spend the week meeting with key stakeholders and technology companies, training new tech advocates, and participating in the 2017 Combine Congress.

In our 17 years of working on this issue, we’ve learned how critical it is for everyone to be working together and to be a part of this conversation. From advocates and service providers to law enforcement, policymakers, and technology companies, the collective knowledge, skills, and expertise of everyone is needed to address the multifaceted needs of survivors and move forward towards an end to violence. We’re delighted to be part of this new project and to be coming together on June 22 for the Combine Congress. Working in partnership, our collective efforts can truly make a difference!

*UPDATED: Preserving Victim Privacy While Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency: Finding the balance with Open Police Data Initiatives

We are pleased to announce the release of a package of resources to support law enforcement, advocates and communities in in efforts to ensure victim privacy and safety while increasing transparency through Open Data and the Police Data Initiative.

First released in January of this year, “How Law Enforcement Agencies Releasing Open Data Can Protect Victim Privacy & Safety” was written together with the Police Foundation for law enforcement agencies. This guide describes the need for victim privacy to be a central consideration in efforts to share data with the public, including specific recommendations.

A companion handout written for advocates is now also available. This resource emphasizes the importance of advocates’ involvement in decisions to release police data online, and includes basic information to support advocates in joining those conversations.

Supplementing these written resources, we are making available a pre-recorded webinar conversation between representatives of NNEDV, the Police Foundation, and privacy experts from the Vera Institute, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University.

Background from previous post:

One of the hallmark efforts of the Obama administration was to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Work to increase “open data” included the Police Data Initiative, which encouraged local jurisdictions to provide access to information about 911 calls, stops, arrests and other police activities so that members of those local communities could 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.

Over the more than two decades since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, we have seen improvements in criminal justice system response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking when advocates and law enforcement work together to improve systems. We also know that there is more work to be done to improve response overall, and particularly in marginalized communities.

As we continue to work with law enforcement to improve the response to victims and communities, we have a need to ensure the privacy and safety of victims who interact with law enforcement. Police data released to the public has the potential to reveal victims’ identity and consequently put them at risk of further harm, harassment or damage to their reputation.

For more than a year, Safety Net has explored the issue of maintaining victim privacy and safety while supporting the overall intention behind the Police Data Initiative with 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 Obama White House, the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and others.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K064 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Technology-Facilitated Stalking: What You Need to Know

Tech Doesn't Cause Stalking.jpg

Through technology and our use of social media, we can quickly and easily connect with other people. However, typical activities such as tweeting, updating a Facebook status, or using a phone’s GPS to find local restaurants can all be misused by abusers to stalk, harass, surveil, and control victims.

What is Stalking?

Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. According to the CDC, 7.5 million people are stalked in the United States each year.

  •  61% of female victims and 44 percent of male victims are stalked by current or former intimate partners.
  • 90% of stalking incidents are committed by someone that the victim knows.

Learn more about stalking from the Stalking Resource Center

Misusing Technology in Order to Stalk Victims

One common form of technology-facilitated stalking is spying and eavesdropping. This is a popular method among perpetrators because it is inexpensive and easily hidden.

  • Mobile devices include call records, texts, web surfing and physical location histories.
  • Many social media apps also track a user’s friends, conversations and location.

The goal of the technology abuse can be to track or control a victim, to isolate the victim from supportive friends and family, or to damage a victim’s credibility or work-life.

Gathering Evidence

When it comes to technology-facilitated abuse, preserving evidence is critical. Though our gut reaction may be to hit ‘delete,’ we need to consider documenting what’s happening on the device before removing it. Possible steps include:

  • Coordinating with law enforcement and prosecutors early on, if you choose to.
  •  Keeping a stalking incident log. This helps to paint a picture and can help to refresh a victim’s memory. Some items to keep in the incident log include: text messages, photos, videos, voice messages, screenshots of phones and laptops, and printed emails with the header expanded.

Safety Tips for Survivors of Technology-Facilitated Stalking or Abuse

Though abusers can misuse technology, it can also be used strategically by survivors to enhance or maintain safety.

Safe and private use of technology is possible

  • Learn more about technology safety through our Survivors’ Toolkit, including guides to privacy and safety with social media, mobile devices and more.
  • Download our Tech Safety App to your mobile device to access tech safety tips, resources, and information on the go


Read a longer version of this summary. This post is drawn from a webinar hosted in January by Jewish Women International (JWI) featuring Safety Net and the Stalking Resource Center.


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 publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Recent Instagram Changes Aim to Create a Safer Platform

Early last Fall, Instagram made a commitment to users to make sure it’s a safe place. Recently they’ve taken new steps toward fulfilling that commitment by launching a number of additional safety tools. These include:

·         Instagram Together a new safety center that catalogues all of the safety tools available to Instagram users, and lists international resources to support peoples’ safety (And we’re thrilled to say that is listed among them!)

·         Two-factor authentication will now be available to all users, adding an extra layer of security that helps keep your account safe even if your password is stolen.

·         Sensitive Content Screens will now blur out images and videos that have been flagged by users (and verified by Instagram’s review team) as sensitive in nature. These are images and videos that don’t violate Instagram’s guidelines, but that some users may feel are offensive or disturbing. As we know, sometimes online harassment takes the form of people mis-flagging the photos of victims in an effort to prevent them from effectively engaging on social media. We spoke with Instagram to see how they work to make sure the Sensitive Content Screens won’t be misused in such a way, and were told that the only time the screens will go up is if the content doesn’t violate their community guidelines but contains graphic or violent content. Examples of this include images of animal abuse, the impact of war on local communities, etc. Only Instagram can place a screen over a photo, and the number of times a post is flagged will not impact their decision-making process – so if someone is trying to troll a victim by mis-flagging their photos, their efforts will be ineffective.

We’re pleased to see Instagram work to make their platform a safer place for survivors of harassment and abuse, and look forward to seeing what’s next in their efforts to fulfill their commitment to kindness!