We're all constantly logged on these days. Maybe it's just a cell phone with location tracking or that social media account you signed into from the library. With the increasing popularity of smart home technology, though, overall monitoring is on the rise, and it has come with unintended consequences. Technology may facilitate harassment, including stalking. But it can also act as evidence of such actions.
Your Digital Footprint
As noted above, we all leave a digital footprint in the form of location tracking and sign-ins, the towers where our cell phones "ping" on any given day, and through so many other actions. On its own, this is just a nuisance, perhaps revealing information you'd prefer ecommerce companies not have, but it's not necessarily a problem until it's used in a harmful way – and one of the most popular forms of harassment is device-driven GPS tracking.
A Look At Location Data
Abusive ex-partners use GPS tracking as a means of abuse, and can go about it in several different ways. One woman reported realizing her ex had placed a tracking device on her vehicle because her car battery began draining more quickly, while her ex began frequently appearing in different places she visited.
Another way that abusers use GPS tracking is by looking at the location data embedded in social media images. You may not have tagged an image with your location, but unless you clear the metadata, it's right there for anyone savvy enough to access it. This means that if you move to avoid a stalker, but post photos taken inside your home – or even post other content to the internet while at home – your abuser may be able to find out where you live.
A Rise In Surveillance
GPS-driven harassment is a serious privacy incursion and gives abusers the information that they need to locate and potentially harm their targets, but it may not be the most nefarious form of digital abuse. After all, GPS is just a set of coordinates; it doesn't reveal much on its own. More technologically skilled abusers, however, have been known to hijack smart home devices, allowing them to view security feeds, remotely control devices, and otherwise manipulate and terrifying their victims.
Reversing The Process
Though smart home technology, cell phones, and other digital platforms can be used as tools of abuse, in the right hands they can also provide evidence. A successful defense begins with connecting digital harassment with the foundations of formerly analog crimes. For example, many people assume stalking means literally following someone around, and that cyberstalking is primarily about looking at past whereabouts. According to the Rowdy G. Williams Law Firm, though, the legal definition of stalking focuses on intentional, repeated harassment that makes the victim reasonably feel threatened, intimidated or frightened.
Repeatedly manipulating someone's home environment, hacking into accounts in order to follow them, or using remote device control to spy on them all fall within the framework of stalking or harassment, so how do use technology to prove it? Some victims have hired forensic analysts to search their devices for signs of incursion, evidence that police can then use to prosecute the case. The National Network to End Domestic Violence also provides a series of resources for technology safety and law, including guidelines for collecting evidence for IoT devices.
What resources victims have access to through their local police departments will vary, but as this problem continues to grow in severity and frequency, more departments will be forced to grapple with the issues. Digital harassment evidence may be buried in code, but it's there and, for victims, uncovering it may be the difference between living in terror and getting their lives back.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. Read Larry Alton's Reports — More Here.
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