Keeping your smartphone safe in 2020

As much as the new advancements of technology seem to better our lives daily, they can also put our personal lives in danger.

Intimate relationships have fallen victim to some of these advancements. Gender-based violence has escalated to new forms which include access to private information, control and monitoring of one’s online activities and as if that was not enough, some women suffer at the hands of their partners who insist on them having tracking devices on their cellphones to track their whereabouts.

In a case of domestic violence, if the perpetrator gains access to the victim’s device, they can install software on the device that will assist them in secretly tracking the victim’s day-to-day online activities. They can track location, text messages, pictures and videos. Some software can also detect whom the victim was having a conversation with over the phone and where the caller was calling from and they can also record conversations. Some apps make it conceivable to remotely record video and sound.

Many people might think smartphone spyware of this kind would just be accessible to Government or Intelligence units or can only be accessed by computer science engineering specialists. Sadly this is not the case.

Smart spyware is a simple click away. There are various how-to-guides available online that make it easy for perpetrators to learn ways that they can track their victim’s mobile devices. Spyware software is available on Google and Apple’s application stores; installation is as easy as getting a hold of the victim’s phone as well as their password and downloading the apps before the victim knows. This results in the victim being spied on by someone whom they probably trust the most. Another unfortunate part about this is the fact that most of the spyware software is available free of charge.

If you have been seeking help online because you’re in an abusive relationship and you suspect your partner might be tracking your every move on the internet, then maybe using your cellphone or PC might get you into more trouble. It is therefore very important for you to protect your online activities and learn about the different ways that technology can compromise your life.

Below is a list of things to do and avoid if you believe that someone is keeping a close watch on your internet activity and your cellphone:
  • Deleting your browser history is not enough security for someone who is monitoring your online activity. You might want to continue using an alternate device. Ignoring to use your regular devices completely might raise suspicions with the perpetrator so continue to use it for checking the weather and certain aspects of your social media that won’t raise alarms. Suddenly deleting history browsers will also raise alarm.
  • Make use of two-step password verification. This will make it difficult for the perpetrator to gain access to your phone if they decide to steal your phone so that they can install spyware on your device.
  • If you suspect that your cellphone has spyware on it, turn off the location setting so that they will not be able to track your whereabouts.
  • Avoid using instant messaging such as WhatsApp and email to communicate to people that you are seeking help from. If there is a way, try to call a hotline from an alternative number instead and remember to give a false identity to hotline care contact numbers. If you opt for using email or IM, use a safer computer that you might find in an internet cafe and remember not to login with the account that your perpetrator knows, create a “safe account” for yourself. Always opt for public phones and computers that are made available for public use to communicate when calling for help.

Once you discover that someone has been spying on you, it might cause the ultimate shock and disbelief, even though you were suspecting it. Whether it was with personal or business intent, the impact can be hard to cope with upon discovery. Find support in a friend you trust for the short-term and work on your long term plan together:

  • Speak to someone; a friend, family member, your HR department at work or someone in your community you trust.
  • Start to make plans to leave and move out permanently: arrange a place to stay, set money aside and seek employment if you are not currently employed.
  • If possible, temporarily move out and find a safe space to stay. If you don’t have a place to stay, there are shelters available.
  • Contact a women’s organisation for help, support and legal advice.