I was over at my friend's house visiting and she excitedly showed me a new application on her phone. With a single click, she could see where her husband was in the city. Sure enough, a screen popped up with a map, zoomed in, and showed him as a little pulsing blue dot at the corner of a major Seattle intersection. It was a really positive thing for them because he was in charge of dinner and knew when she had left work - he was free to work on projects or video game with his friends until an alert sounded. But.. As someone who has had a stalker in her life, the application raised some worrisome thoughts.
I love technology. I work for a technology company doing nerdy technologically advanced things. The job isn't where it stops - I check into the Internet on at least 4-5 devices every day. By all rights I should glow in the dark! Between the Xbox One, iPhone, Kindle, Laptop, and iPad, I am wired to the Internet nearly all the time. Even my camera uses GPS and the wireless network. The Internet helps me connect to people - which I love. The Internet and all the connected devices also make it easier than ever to find people and look into their personal lives. This isn't necessarily a good thing.
I can't count how many times my friends and I have said something to the effect of, "I am so glad I'm not a teenager right now. I would get in so much trouble." When I was younger, I made a higher frequency of stupid decisions. Because I'm older than camera phones, most of those decisions won't haunt me. Kids these days have it rough. One dumb decision to take a nude selfie can launch a smear campaign across the Internet. Trust is given away more freely when we are young, and most of us learn the hard way to become guarded. That lesson can come at a very steep cost these days. Web services take snapshots of websites. Posts live on even if they are deleted. Think hard before you upload anything to the web. It's not just a matter of personal safety - employers and agents perform Google searches on prospective employees/writers before responding to query.
It's very difficult to make any device secure, but there are steps you can take to make yourself less vulnerable. Do this before there is a problem, and you are a less attractive target. Make sure your devices have passcodes that are changed periodically and have an autolock feature. If you walk away from your phone, tablet, or laptop, locking the device can help deter someone from manually installing a keystroke or GPS program. Be cognizant of how you are accessing the web. Sometimes it's safer to have your phone connected through your wireless provider network than the wifi network at a cafe. Unsecure networks are an easy way for someone to hack into your system. Turning on the "ask me" feature so your device prompts you before connecting can prevent issues when you move from home to the cafe or work. Anti-virus software is very problematic and reactive, but it's better than nothing. Make sure the program also has firewall protection and enable it.
What If I Have a Stalker?
I am not an expert, but your local domestic violence center can help you or point you in the right direction. They have wonderful resources.
I was speaking with a childhood friend on Facebook who happens to be a police officer in a high tech area. He told me that his department is seeing an increase in hacked accounts and GPS software installed on victims' phones. Another big concern is Social Media. A stalker doesn't have to be very high tech to find out a lot of information on Social Media. Many stalkers friend or follow their victim under an alias or hack directly into the account. Check-in applications, enabling GPS, or posting where you are at any given moment are great ways to let your stalker know where you are. If you suspect you have a stalker, the best advice is to stop using Social Media. It's very easy for a stalker to assume a false identity and get information. At the very least, turn off any check in or GPS applications even if you feel your account is secure and set your posts to private.
Another thing to consider is computer and email security. It might be best to go to a public library to look up local domestic violence resources (even if you have never had a relationship with your stalker, you absolutely qualify for help), and establish a new email account if you need to reach out to someone. Some cell phone providers have wonderful programs that give victims of domestic violence phones with prepaid minutes so they have the ability to call for help. For more information on Verizon's Hopeline program and how you can help, click here.
The bad guys use technology, but so do the good guys. Keeping a log of your stalker's activity can help police obtain a warrant to monitor their cell phone usage. Police can cross reference against a log and verify that the individual is spending time where they have no reason to be unless their intent is to harass their victim.
Do you think about Internet privacy? Has technology been used against you?