In terms of keeping yourself safe using technology the key is the settings you use on each device. The first step is to go through privacy and security settings of every account or web browser you use, and every device you have, and change them to make sure you are not leaving evidence on your computer or phone of the websites you have visited or places you have been. A very good resource is Women’s Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit. This resource gives specific step by step instructions to change the settings on commonly used browsers and phones, and further advice on the safe use of social media.
Another very good website is the esafety Online Safety Checklist for anyone in a domestic and family violence situation. It contains steps to increase your personal safety and ensure you can continue to use technology and stay connected.
Here are some additional tips and links.
Phones, computers and other devicesTOP
Device safety tips
- Use a safe device – do not use your own device for any new banking, safety planning or personal chats. Use a library computer or a friend’s or family member’s device that your partner will not have access to or check;
- Change how you use your current device – do not access anything important on it, or anything that might make your partner more suspicious or angry;
- Ditch the device – If you think your partner is tracking your location through your device, leave the device at home as often as you can, particularly if you are going to an agency, friend or to the police for help. Trust your instincts. If possible get a new phone. Even basic or older phones will let you make calls. Get a prepaid service or make sure the bill is in your name so it does not go to your partner;
- Use community facilities – scan, photocopy or email important documents, such as court orders at libraries, women’s services, and trusted friends or family members;
- Passcode all devices – use fingerprint or facial recognition to access your devices (where possible), add a new passcode to your phone and tablet and set your phone to lock immediately when the screen is turned off. You can find out more at the esafety website.
More advice on device safety can be found on the 1800RESPECT Device safety webpage.
Clear your browser history
Clearing your browser history will prevent your partner seeing what sites you have visited:
- Using Google Chrome Incognito means that browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms won’t be saved;
- Commonly used browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Explorer) will allow you to manually delete the browser history (the record of sites you have visited). e.g. you can delete the record of the last hour or the last day, etc. You can also change the settings to prevent the browser recording the history altogether;
- You might consider using a different browser than the one you and your partner normally use, as your partner may be less inclined to check other browsers. If you do this, make sure you clear the browser history just in case it is checked;
- Keep in mind that if someone is monitoring your computer use, deleting your browser history may appear suspicious. However, regularly deleting your browsing history can increase privacy.
Further information, including various options to enhance privacy in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, and information on private browsing and Do Not Track options can be found on the Technology Safety Australia website.
This website and many others you may use contain a quick exit button, which will immediately clear your screen to prevent others from seeing the website you have been looking at. The button will clear the screen and take you onto another site like Google or a weather website. It is important to know that although you have cleared the screen and gone to another website, pressing the “back” button several times may take the screen back to the websites you have been most recently visiting. Pressing an exit button will not delete the browser history. You should clear the browser history manually when it is safe to do so.
Is a tracking app or spyware being used?
Spyware can tell abusers every call you make, every email or message you send and every place you take your device. It can be hard to know if an abuser has installed spyware on your device. Some signs are:
- the battery of your device is dying faster than usual (although this can also be a sign of an aging battery);
- unknown programs are operating in the background of your device;
- your speeds are slower;
- your partner seems to know a lot about what you are doing, where you are, who you are talking to online, through emails, texts and calls.
- Install anti-spyware protection on all your devices to help block spyware (see Women’s Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit for advice and instructions).
- Check your computer to make sure that a keylogger (device that records every keystroke made on your computer) hasn’t been installed between the keyboard and the computer.
The Safer in the Home program can provide assessment of surveillance technologies that may have been installed without your knowledge such as:
- Scanning for spyware on mobiles, iPads, computers and social media;
- Detection of tracking devices on vehicles;
- Detection of monitoring devices within the home such as cameras and/or recording devices.
Further information on the Safer in the Home Program can be found in section 3e. Staying Safe at Home.
Online accounts and app safetyTOP
- Create a new email account that does not feature your name. For example use firstname.lastname@example.org, but not YourRealName@email.com. Most of the free email service providers (e.g. google mail) will allow you to create multiple email accounts, but make sure they are not linked (i.e. if asked to link the new account to an existing one, say ‘no’). Use this new email for all safety planning such as setting up any new bank accounts or contacting Centrelink. If you need to use another email to verify your identity, use a trusted friend or family member’s email and avoid any emails or phone numbers your partner may have access to.
- Trust your gut feeling – If you think your partner somehow has access to the information in your new email account, set up another new email account on a safe device.
- Create new passwords for all new accounts that will not be obvious to your partner. Do not use your or your children’s birthdates, children’s or pets’ names, favourite foods, colours or singers. Using two words together with numbers or symbols (*&^) in the middle of the words can work well. If you are worried you may forget your new passwords leave a list of them in a safe place, like a trusted friend or family member’s home. You can also get apps to ‘manage’ your passwords such as LastPass, LogMeOnce, and Dashlane.
- Act normally – keep using your old email accounts for day-to-day communication, so that your partner will not become suspicious.
- Be selective with future contacts on social media, only add ‘friends’ you can trust not to communicate with your partner. Activate the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Do not allow search engines outside of the social media program link to your profile.
- Always log off or sign out of social media and email accounts rather than just closing the window, and make sure the privacy settings on social media are set to ‘private’. Limit who can look you up on social media using email address or phone number.
- Consider creating a new social media account under a different user name and password for personal communication with friends, but use your ‘normal’ one from time to time to avoid making your partner suspicious. Do not make your social media posts available for public viewing.
- Mobile phones have apps which make it easy for you to log into your email, Facebook, Instagram and so on. You can hide these apps so that if your partner picks up your phone they won’t be able to see these apps – this iPhone Life Magazine article gives you information on how to do this.
Keep your location safe
- Don’t post your location or photos on social media. Make sure that friends and family, including children, understand the safety risks of putting information or photos online that identify where you.
- Ensure there are no GPS tracking devices in children’s games, phones, computers or your car. Look for any small unidentified electronic device that should not be there. Newer cars may have a GPS tracking device fitted as standard equipment. Discuss this the dealership to make sure it is switched off or otherwise disabled.
- Check credit card or direct debit payments that may give away your location.
- See if your private contact information can be found online. Go to Google’s search engine and search for your name in quotation marks (“Full Name”).
- Turn off location settings and services on your phone and devices. Make sure all of this is done to your children’s devices as well as yours, especially if your partner has given a device to them as a gift. Apple’s website will teach you how to do this on an Apple phone. Some apps will require location services to be on (e.g. google maps when used for navigation). If you need to use these apps, learn how to turn location services on temporarily, then off again when you have finished using the app. Do not leave locations services switched on all the time.
Sometimes people use one account, like their Facebook account, to sign up or login to other apps and accounts. Information held on your devices can also be held on an online account like iCloud or Google. If your accounts connect through a common iCloud or Facebook account, knowing how your accounts connect may help you understand how another person may be getting your information. Controlling your own devices and accounts may be important for your safety and privacy.
More advice can be found on the 1800RESPECT Online accounts and app safety webpage.
A scam is a fraudulent way to try to get something for value from you, usually money. Although your abusive partner is unlikely to perpetrate a scam against you, in the context of online security it is important to know about scams and recognise and defeat any attempt to solicit money from you. If a scammer is successful, they will reduce your financial capacity to leave an abusive relationship.
The main types of scams are:
Phishing: This involves a scammer (or phiser) pretending to be a legitimate organisation or trustworthy person contacting you to try to get personal information from you such as your bank account details, your credit card etc. This information will then be used to steal money, commit identity or credit card fraud or engage in other illegal activities.
Catfishing or dating scams: These involve someone starting and continuing with a long-distance relationship and they will usually have a convincing on-line profile with photos and background information. Once the relationship is established, they will pretend there is some sort of emergency and then ask for money.
Information about the types of scams, current scam alerts and how to report a scam can be found on the Government’s Scamwatch website. Similar information is also available on the Government’s Stay Smart Online website, including the option to sign up for a scam alert service.
Remember stalking, harassment and abuse are not okay and not your fault. This behaviour is upsetting and dangerous, but help is available at the esafety website.
Further information can be found at the Office of eSafety Commissioner – Empowering women to take control online website and the tech safety website.
[Article last updated: 4/12/21]