January is National Stalking Awareness Month

Spyware: Peace of mind or violation of privacy?

Part I
Posted:  Friday, January 2, 2015 - 2:15pm
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We're living in what is sometimes referred to as the “information age.”

What kind of information? News from around the world in a nanosecond, immediate messages from loved ones via texting and photos and other information at anyone's fingertips through Facebook and other social media.

Today, the ability to keep tabs on others is also easier than it’s ever been. Settings, built into every cell phone on the market, can follow your every move, making you very easy to find. Anyone who can access your cell phone, can read texts, emails, contacts and Internet usage.

And, where your cell phone's programs leave off, spyware, the technological version of Big Brother, picks up. Anyone with the cash can buy it — including stalkers, sexual predators and abusers.

What may have been designed as a tool to monitor the whereabouts and activities of children or employees, is being used by abusers and stalkers, increasing the power and control they can exert over their victims.

What can an individual do to protect themselves in this “information” age? This two-part series will explore the uses of and types of spyware, what we can do to protect ourselves and our right to privacy.

Are you being tracked?

Does the person you suspect seem to know a lot about where you've been and who you've seen?

Does this person sometimes show up at places you are more often than could be considered coincidence?

Has the person had access to your cell phone? Does this person have access to your wireless provider's account?

Have you noticed your phone battery is being drained faster? It could be due to the extra apps running on the phone.

If you answer yes to one or more of the questions, there is a strong possibility the answer to, “Are you being tracked?” is yes.

If this person knows where you are — even when your cell phone isn't with you, there may be a tracking device attached somewhere to your vehicle. Get it to a garage with an owner or employee there that you trust, and ask them to check out the car.

Or, if you have a GPS device in the vehicle, the person could be downloading data from it.

Cell phones

OK, let's start with the cell phone. Check the settings daily. Be sure the locator setting is “Off.” Location services can be found on iPhones under “Settings” then “Privacy.” Location services is usually at the top of the privacy list — switch it off.

Web browsers are also under “Settings.” Tap on your browser (Safari and Firefox are examples), and scroll down to the “Privacy and Security” section. Be sure “Do Not Track” is selected; scroll down again and select “Clear History and Website Data.”

Also under iPhone “Settings,” is “Facetime,” set this in the off position. By doing this, phone numbers and emails are not shared with people you call.

Create a password for your phone and computer. Passwords are a hassle, and it's not as though someone in an abusive situation can leave passwords in a file somewhere. It must be easy to remember — as though your life depended on it.

Setting or changing a password for someone living with their abuser is a potentially dangerous action. Someone in this situation, in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox or Waldo counties, would be best served by contacting New Hope For Women's 24-hour hotline: 1-800-522-3304.

The next part in this series will go into types of spyware and their capabilities.