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The most recent stalkerware report confirmed a link between digital abuse and domestic violence.

 
digital abuse and violence is directly associated with stalkerware
 
 

What is Stalkerware

 
According to  Malwarebytes:
 

It is a general term used to describe software applications that are specifically designed to track individuals while hiding from view. Many stalkerware applications market themselves as parental monitoring tools, but they can be and often are used to stalk and spy on a person.

 
A stalkerware is not limited to tracking your locations, but they can monitor and record your online activity, private conversations via call or messaging, take photos of you and send them to the person who installed the software.
 
 

Stalkerware, Digital Abuse, and Domestic Violence

 
The most common and, in some ways, acceptable use of stalkerware is for parental control. Similarly, some employers may install these and other tracking devices on company-issued devices used by field personnel for security reasons.
 
However, in some intimate relationships, couples use this to track their partner in addition to asking them for their account passwords.
 
When stalkerware is installed “without consent”, this violates the person’s inherent human rights and constitutes digital abuse and online violence.
 
Digital abuse is the use of technology to disregard a person’s digital rights (human rights applied in a virtual environment)  which include online privacy, digital safe space, and freedom of expression. An example of online violence, on the other hand, is cyberbullying and harassment.
 
And when stalking yields unfavorable results– like the stalkee going to places or talking to people or engaging in activities that the stalker does not approve of, can result in physical, emotional, psychological, and material violence.
 
 

The State of Stalkerware in 2021 Report

 
For four years, Kaspersky has consistently released reports on the year to year situation of stalkerware, data is collated from the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) — a global network for exchanging information on cyber threats.
 
The 2021 report also incorporated the results of digital abuse survey commissioned by Kaspersky and several public organizations conducted at the end of 2021. By comparing KSNs data with the results of a Digital Stalking survey, it was discovered that 24% of people surveyed confirmed being stalked using technology, and 25% confirmed having experienced violence or abuse at the hands of their partner.
 
Stalkerware links to digital abuse and domestic violence
 
This validated what many are already assuming– digital abuse is committed with the use of stalkerware and other smart devices, and it usually spills over to physical violence.
 
Two non-profit organizations that participated in Kaspersky’s study shared their experience with their work with victims. US-based NNEDV (the National Network to End Domestic Violence) and WWP EN (the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence) confirmed that tech-enabled abuse is a growing issue.
 
According to Berta Vall Castelló and Anna McKenzie from WWP EN
 

ICT technologies are powerful tools for perpetrators exerting coercive control, especially in relationships
where violence is already present offline. Domestic violence has significantly increased during the pandemic, especially during lockdowns.

 
Stalkerware continues to affect victims everywhere in the world. Kaspersky has identified affected users in over 185 countries and territories, with Russia, Brazil, the United States, and India again being the top four countries with the largest number of unique users identified.
 
 

The Philippines, Stalkerware, and Domestic Violence

 
Still, on Kaspersky’s report, the Philippines ranked 4th in the Asia Pacific Region, and 3rd in South East Asia.
 
Digital Abuse and Stalkerware: Philippine is on top 5 in Asia Pacific Region
 
Though affected users are seemingly lower compared to India, please note that the figures only reflect the following:

  • Those who are aware they are being stalked and ‘consented’ to collect anonymous data about them
  • Those who are using Kaspersky’s protection solution
  • Those who fall under the criteria of stalkerware as defined by Coalition Against Stalkerware, an international group dedicated to tackling stalkerware and combating domestic violence

 
So obviously, the number could be higher since not all victims of digital abuse are aware they are being staked. And abusive partners need not use stalkerware if they have acquired the passwords of their partners.
 
But the result of this survey is consistent with the surge of domestic violence experienced by Filipinas as a consequence of COVID-19 induced lockdown.
 
These abuses were reported by  Relief Web and UCANews.
 
 

What can be done

 
There are a few things you can do to lower the risk of getting stalkerware onto your device:

  • Disable facial recognition or fingerprint to open your phone.
  • Set a fairly difficult password in your gadget and do not share it with anyone!
  • Be careful about who has physical access to your phone.
  • Download apps only from official stores.
  • Install trustworthy security software on your device, like Kaspersky

 
If your device battery and mobile data are running out too fast, it could be a sign that you have stalkerware on your device. Stalker applications actively use up your device’s resources because they need to constantly maintain a connection with the servers controlling them. Likewise, stalkerware is easier to install on Android phones unless iPhones are jailbroken.
 
If you are a user of Android phones, here are simple tips from TechCrunch to determine if your gadget has stalkerware

  • Turn on your Google play protect
  • Disable developer access
  • Android users should also pay attention to unfamiliar applications and/or applications having excessive permissions. For Example, “device health” or “accessibility” in your accessibility settings, and advice admin app

 

However, as one of the co-founders and of a coalition combating domestic violence, Kaspersky does not recommend that you remove a stakerware if you discover one on your phone. The stalker will be alerted of this and the situation might escalate to physical violence.

 
 

In the Philippines, if you are a victim of domestic violence, you can do the following to seek help:

 

  • Call 911 or your local emergency hotline for life-threatening situations
  • Go to the Violence Against Women  (VAW) Desk in your Barangay
  • The barangay is mandated to assist violence against women (VAW) victims in securing Barangay Protection
    Order (BPO) and accessing necessary services and to respond to gender-based violence cases brought to the
    barangay.

  • Go to the nearest Women and Children’s desk of the Philippine National Police
  • Contact Women’s Care Center Inc. at 0917 825 032 / 0920 9677 852 / landline: 8514 4104/ email: wcc.inc.ph@gmail.com
    Women’s Crisis Center is a non-stock, non-profit private institution with a firm commitment to end violence against women and to work towards a just and humane society.

 
 

In the Philippines, to seek help from digital abuse, you can do the following:

 

  • You can file an online complaint at the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center.
  • Visit either the PNP Cybercrime Unit at Camp Crame or the NBI Cybercrime Unit at Taft Ave
  • According to this news report, you can contact the National Bureau of Investigation at ccd@nbi.gov.ph or call 028521-9208, local extensions 3429 (Chief) and 3497 (Staff).

 
 

ASKSonnie.INFO aka The ‘ASK’ Project is around co-creating digital safe spaces. Let us know if we can collaborate to minimize, if not end any forms of digital abuse and negative online experience.

 
 
 

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