By: Brett Rapkin-Citrenbaum: Intern for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2011 a mere 35% of American adults owned a smartphone; however, five years later in 2017, that number skyrocketed to 77%. Arguably, this increase in smartphone usage shows the American public’s greater interest and accessibility to portable online technology. Social media, phone apps, and a constant connection to the web makes our lives more convenient than ever before, but that convenience often involves the user giving up some personal privacy. Unfortunately, perpetrators have figured out a way to exploit the reduced privacy and use technology to further crimes such as sexual assault and stalking. The following are some tips and suggestions on staying safe when utilizing technology.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that 28% of smartphone users do not use any type of screen lock feature to secure their device. Regardless as to whether it is on your cellphone, computer, email account, or social media, passwords are a must. The recommended length for a password is 12 to 15 characters. It is advised to use letters, numbers, and symbols throughout the password. For the sake of one’s own memory, it may be helpful to use a short sentence (EndSexualAssault4ever!). If a user is interested in even more security, they may want to use two factor or multi-factor authentication. This means that a user must enter a second piece of information to access their account—most commonly a one-time code that is texted or emailed to a user separately. This can usually be set up in the account settings or security settings of a website or app. It is also good practice to not allow your browser to remember your password despite the few seconds it may save.
Location sharing can be an incredible tool. Best case, it can be used for finding a friend at a crowded event or provide a sense of comfort if one is nervous about walking home alone. Worst case, unintentional location sharing can lead to an invasion of privacy or act as an aid to perpetrators stalking their victims. Those at risk should make sure their location sharing settings are set to an appropriate privacy level. If one believes they are being monitored and do not want their location available at all through their phone, it may benefit them to turn their phone off and take out the battery. It is also wise to turn the Bluetooth setting off on a mobile cellphone.
Data from App Annie Intelligence found that smartphone users in 10 different countries (including the United States) use an average of 30 apps per month and 10 apps per day. Users must be conscious of the apps on their phone. If an app is unfamiliar, it is advised to delete it immediately. There are apps that are disguised as news or social media, but are actually used to track or control the user’s phone. Make sure to read about new apps before downloading and delete apps that seem suspicious. Be aware of what data and privacy the user is exchanging in order to use the app.
Mostly, those concerned about their safety with technology should trust their instincts. If something seems off, it probably is. For more information and resources on staying safe with technology in the context on intimate partner violence/sexual violence, visit https://www.techsafety.org/resources.