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Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and it is impossible to completely clear your browser history. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for 24/7 help in English, Spanish and more than 140 other languages.
The overwhelming majority of Americans own a cellphone, and the majority of those users have at least one active social media account.
Owning a cellphone has numerous benefits, but such devices hold a lot of information about you, so it is important to keep it secure and private.
This is especially relevant if you have a spouse or partner who is using technology to harass or control you. Here are four tips that technology safety experts recommend for you to keep your device safe and secure.
- Lock down your phone.
One of the most important things you can do is put a passcode on your phone. This helps prevent someone from going through it and installing unwanted apps or malicious software, such as spyware. Most phones unlock with a four- to six-digit code. Pick a code that only you know. Some phones have other lock options, such as a pattern, thumbprint or facial recognition. Be cautious about allowing others to add their thumbprint or facial image to your phone. If someone else needs to get into your phone (and you trust them), you can always tell them your code and then change it afterward.
- Review your iCloud and Google accounts.
If you have a cellphone, you likely also have an associated iCloud (for iPhones) or Google (for Android) account. These accounts often hold your phone’s backup information, and depending on your settings, can include sensitive information such as photos, notes, contacts and calendars. It is possible to access these accounts from your phone, as well as from other phones and computers. This means that anyone who knows the username and password to your iCloud or Google account can log in and see some of the information that’s on your device. To help protect your personal data:
- Make sure nobody else knows your username and password.
- Ensure that the email address associated with your account is secure and that only you can access it.
- If you have other devices connected to your iCloud or Google account, consider disconnecting them when you are not actively using them.
- Know what information (photos, contacts, notes, etc.) is set to back up to your account. You can choose what information to back up in your phone’s settings.
- Know the apps on your phone.
People download millions of apps each day. Some use information from your phone to function. For example, map apps need to know your location to provide directions. But others may share information in harmful ways. To help increase your phone’s security:
- Review the privacy settings so you know what information each app can access.
- Delete apps you are not using, especially if they have a lot of permissions to access your data.
- Deny access requests for apps that do not need it. For example, a gaming app that doesn’t involve location doesn’t need your location and shouldn’t require it.
- Be cautious and avoid malware and other malicious apps by:
- Saying yes when your phone prompts you for a software update. These often include security updates to your phone’s operating system.
- Not downloading apps outside of official app stores. On Android phones, you can prevent this from accidentally happening by turning off “allow unknown sources” in the security settings. If you have an iPhone, set it to not allow the downloading of apps that are not in the App Store.
- Turning on Google Play Protect to scan for malicious software before downloading apps.
- Downloading anti-spyware and anti-malware tools.
- Choose when to connect to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Most cellphones now ask you to confirm if you want to connect with a Wi-Fi network or a Bluetooth-enabled device. But in most cases, if you’ve connected once, it will automatically connect again when you’re within range. Unless it’s a secure Wi-Fi network or a Bluetooth device you trust (for example, if you own the other Bluetooth device), consider “forgetting” the network or Bluetooth device after you’re done connecting. You can find this option under settings. Choose when to connect your cellphone, but more importantly, choose when not to connect.
Help and resources
If you are concerned about cellphone privacy and suspect your spouse or partner may have accessed or tampered with your device, help is available. This is true whether you are wanting to talk to your partner about setting boundaries regarding cellphone use, or want to report technology-aided domestic abuse or intimate-partner violence.
- Contact your local Family Advocacy Program. A domestic abuse victim advocate can work with you to set healthy boundaries in your relationship, create a technology safety plan or help you document abuse involving your cellphone and other devices.
- Understand military reporting options. Know how to report domestic abuse in the military and what happens when you do. To learn more about military reporting options, including how to manage your safety, contact a domestic abuse victim advocate through the Family Advocacy Program.
- Get help from the civilian community. If you are concerned about your safety and need immediate support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for 24/7 help in English, Spanish and more than 140 other languages. If you need immediate help, call 911.
- Learn more about technology privacy and security. Information for this article was provided by the Safety Net Project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.* To learn more about cellphone safety and location strategies, refer to this guide.
*Inclusion of this information does not imply endorsement of the Safety Net Project by the Defense Department.
Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate Locator
Find help for domestic abuse from the victim advocate closest to you by using the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate Locator — whether you’re in the United States or overseas.
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Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, visit the 24/7 Family Advocacy Program Victim Advocate Locator or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800−799−7233.