How Bad is the Stalkerware Problem? It’s Bad

posted in: Tech | 0

Don’t just take my word for it though, watch Eva Galperin from the EFF and what she found when she asked people if they had ever been threatened by someone with access to their devices. The response was overwhelming.

My takeaways from this:

  1. Most of these companies know exactly what they are doing and who their customers are. They will explain it away as ways to monitor your kids use of a cell phone, or the danger of who might be contacting your kids, but they know there’s a much bigger market for stalking.
  2. Leaving an abusive situation like this is difficult. Think about all of the steps you have to take to ensure your own safety. You need to somehow find a way to change all of your passwords and security questions from a device the stalker/abuser has not had access to, before they do. You need to leave behind any device they’ve had access to, phones, computers, maybe even your car, to ensure they can’t continue to track you by your devices, and you need to notify all of your family and friends so they don’t disclose information about you, on purpose, or accidentally, by talking about you or maybe even with you, online. That’s a lot, and you may have to do all of that without giving the abuser a hint that you’re doing it.
  3. I also love the classic gaslighting, asking for information under the guise of being worried about your mental health. Ugh. Please, consider what you’re doing in these kinds of conversations instead of assuming you’re being helpful. You may not be helping.

As someone who works with technology, my best advice is if you think someone is gaining access to your email, social network accounts, or devices, get rid of them all. Period. Do not bring any devices with you, and once clear, create new email and social media accounts, and new answers to all of your security questions. Close bank accounts and open new ones. Cancel credit cards.

In a nutshell, figure out how to electronically disappear, and start over.

And yet, as I type that, I also recognize that fleeing an abusive situation, or getting rid of a stalker, should not be this hard. We need to do better, as technologists, as a society, and as human beings, to make sure that it’s easier to avoid being in this situation in the first place. I like what Eva talks about with getting anti-virus companies to actually point out when stalkerware is on a device. That’s a start, but we need to do more to help people clean up safely after finding it, and avoid having to start over to escape. We can start by educating ourselves and the people around us, to the issue. We can continue by providing resources to assist people in cleaning access to devices and accounts that are currently being misused, and we can find ways to support anyone, of any gender, who finds themselves threatened by electronic stalkers.

Also, this is why governments do not want your device to be encrypted, without them getting access to break that encryption. They want the ability to stalk anyone as well. To monitor conversations and accounts, to know everything they can possible know about a target. If there’s anyone out there who’d be able to use that against you, think twice about what you’re doing with your devices.

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