Spyware and Domestic Violence: A Little Too Close for Comfort

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Many people seem to enjoy the various ways there are to interact using technology but, for the victim of domestic violence, the use of spyware may be a little too close for comfort. In situations where one might wish to keep their whereabouts confidential, spyware is a handy little tool that pretty much gives anyone free access to all kinds of personal information, including whereabouts. Spyware can be defined as an application or software program that gathers personal data from phones or computers without a person’s knowledge or permission.

There are different opinions about spyware’s first appearance. Some say it all started with a game called Elf Christmas that many people downloaded during the 1999 holiday season. Others say that while the phrase first appeared in 1995 during an internet discussion session, it was the founder of Gibson Research, Steve Gibson, who discovered that ad software on his computer was stealing his personal data.

Whatever the origins of spyware, once installed on a personal computer, tablet or cell phone, it gives cyber stalkers, identity thieves and others of nefarious intent, free access to all the personal data available. Marketers of spyware tout it as an excellent and legal way to monitor, with their full knowledge, the whereabouts of children or the activities of employees. The problem, especially in cases where victims of domestic violence have managed to escape their abuser, is that many subscribers, and there are 100s of thousands, do not bother to inform the person that they are spying.

For many victims of domestic violence, the ability of spyware to record conversations, gather bank and other financial data, and pinpoint their exact physical location may be a little too close for comfort. National Public Radio (NPR), blogger Aarti Shahani writes, “Cyberstalking is now a standard part of domestic abuse in the U.S.” Unfortunately, a lot of victims trying to escape their abusers do not realize that engaging in innocuous activities like posting on social media sites, paying bills online, and even having a conversation, can lead the abuser directly to them.

National Network to End Domestic Violence advocate, Cindy Southworth, heads a project which focuses on domestic violence and the use of technology. According to Southworth, the goal of the abuser is to have complete control and to dominate the victim, she added:

So it’s not enough that they just monitor the victim. They will then taunt them or challenge them and say, ‘Why were you telling your therapist this? Or why did you tell your sister that?

Southworth notes that monitoring the movements of the victim is nothing new. The use of technology just makes it so much easier. “What we’re seeing is that technology is now the new tool to perpetuate that surveillance,” she says. Spyware can be purchased on a month-to-month basis or an annual basis and there are several companies including mSpy, PhoneSheriff, and MobiStealth which offer the service.

Victims of domestic abuse often do not realize their digital devices have been compromised. The use of spyware in these situations opens the door for more creative ways to stalk and harass victims. For many who may be victims of domestic violence and unaware of this technology, spyware may, in fact, bring the abuser a little too close for comfort.

By Constance Spruill


National Public Radio

National Network to End Domestic Violence

Tuneup Advisor


Super AntiSpyware