Bleats

Smartphones Are Letting Domestic Violence Perpetrators Back Into Their Victims' Lives

And we're not doing nearly enough about it.

The only people who should be getting a new iPhone every few months are hardcore Apple fans, and they also really shouldn’t. But sadly it’s a necessary evil that women who are stalked by abusive partners face.

Natasha Malmstrom told the ABC that her ex had managed to track down five phones since she left him in 2012. Shared passwords, cloud access, pre-installed GPS tracking apps, and social media posts are all commonly exploited by perpetrators to keep tabs on their victims. Even Natasha’s dog’s collar was a vulnerability – her ex used it to get hold of her new phone number.

‘Digital coercive control’ – when domestic violence is facilitated by smartphones and other technologies – can be just as emotionally and socially damaging for women as physical assault. Abusers use tech to control women’s finances, and influence their relationships with friends and family. Receiving constant threats via phone makes victims feel isolated.

And it is seriously common. All 30 women interviewed for a DV study by researcher Dr Bridget Harris said they “experienced abuse through technology”.

“The Brisbane Domestic Violence Centre hands out 50 mobile phones a month to women trying to flee a tech-savvy abusive ex.”

Lexy Hamilton-Smith, ABC

DCC keeps women who have escaped violent relationships trapped in the nightmare, and it can be a huge red flag for future abuse. In half of all intimate partner homicide convictions, there were no previous reports of violence.

Ladies, it is not normal or okay for your BF to be texting you 50 times a day, demanding to know where you are or who you’re talking to.

When it comes to technology-based abuse, a lot of the advice women receive is decidedly victim blamey. Changing your passwords and Facebook security settings are good first steps, but asking women to ‘reduce their social media activity’ or ‘get new phone numbers’ does little in the long term, except distance them from their support networks.

Tech companies have a huge responsibility to make the Internet a safer place for women, but don’t hold your breath waiting for serious policy changes. In her most recent submission to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Dr Bridget Harris’ recommendations included:

  • Eliminate charges for changing and unlisting numbers
  • Release survivors from charges for phones that abusers have taken or destroyed
  • Offer financial hardship plans for domestic violence survivors unable to pay for phone contracts and plans
  • Improve consumer safeguards to protect privacy and facilitate release from contracts and family plans when domestic violence is an issue

So while the rest of us are freaking out about real-life Black Mirror, domestic violence victims are facing far more pressing smartphone horrors. And they probably always will, even if tech companies and telcos step up.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

This Robotic Bin Can Legit Get In Itself, We Don’t Need More Tech Garbage

There's an app for that.

Tech is so ingrained in our daily lives that we don’t even notice it anymore, which isn’t always a bad thing. It’s great that we can make the most mundane parts of life a little easier to bear, but can we all agree that we’ve gone too far when even our rubbish bins are robotic?

Knectek Labs are hawking a self-sealing ‘smart’ bin at $150 a pop. It opens by motion sensor, and when the bag fills up, it’s sealed off with the press of a button. And – actually, that’s all.

Its name is townew. Who knew?

For something that is clearly designed for the most boujee of germaphobes, it doesn’t exactly cover all the bases. If I’m going to be paying more than twenty bucks for a bin, it better take itself all the way out to the kerbside.

Robotic bins are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to homeware gadgetry gone mad. Spend five minutes on Indiegogo and you’ll find all manners of entrepreneurs trying to make sure every appliance in your home can be monitored with an app.

Kickstarter campaigns be like

Am I the only one who finds it all a little unsettling? Maybe I just watched that terrifying Disney movie Smart House too young. That scene where the kids get trapped inside by a Suburban White Mom AI haunts me to this day.

We were so naïve in the late 90s.

If you do happen to have a tonne of disposable income in this economy, and consider yourself a technophile, maybe you’d like try the FridgeCam – because it’s not really a surveillance state until you can spy on your own groceries.

There’s an app-activated bathroom assistant that uses ‘electrolysed water’ to blast your bowl, and if interacting with your own pets is too much effort for you, you could spend $200 on an AI cat toy.

I don’t mean to sound like too much of a boomer here – I don’t think iPads are the downfall of civilisation. But there’s a point at which we’ve taken ‘there’s an app for that’ too far, and a robo-bin is definitely it.

Instagram Is Making It Harder To Stalk Our Exes So Thanks, I Guess

We don't 'like' this.

Minimalist Instagram is here to stay, apparently, because they’re officially dumping the ‘following’ tab – AKA the one-stop shop for Insta-stalkers everywhere.

A quick reminder that it’s only been a few months since Instagram’s last Earth-shattering update, and influencers are still reeling from the impact of having their likes hidden. Where are those poor, victimised internet celebs supposed to get their clout now?

But this latest removal isn’t going to protect our health or rescue us from the plague that is the fake-like economy. Instead, it’s going to be a burden to our favourite social media pastime – keeping tabs on our exes and frenemies.

Sure, you can get your Instagram stalking fix by watching that story that your old vacation fling is posting from Mykonos, or rolling your eyes at every stupid Reddit screenshot that annoying guy from high school posts, but nothing compares to the joy of the Following tab.

It’s from this lonely tab, so set apart from the rest of the action by the Instagram UI, that we can experience all of our friends’ and family’s activity. From a follow, to a comment, to a like of a comment, it’s like the all-seeing eye of the platform. You could easily use it to plot an ex-boyfriend’s movements across the internet, if you had enough time to waste.

“She liked Matt’s beach pics on Friday, but left a heart on Liam’s sad relationship meme on Saturday. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!”

There are a hell of a lot of Instagram users who have no clue it even exists, which is one of the reasons that the company is getting rid of it. The other, unspoken reason is to reduce the likelihood of its users being exposed for their more, *cough*, indulgent moments.

It’s really a travesty that we won’t be able to catch the people we hate most commenting heart eyes emojis on celebrity thirst traps, or politicians and other public figures straight up liking porn. At least Twitter can still satisfy that need.

There are some upsides here, because not all Instagram stalking is particularly friendly. Harmless goofing can descend into actual, criminal cyberstalking if left unchecked, and if it helps keep victims of domestic violence and abuse even the littlest bit safer, it’s definitely worth sacrificing a convenient way to have a laugh with friends. Besides, it’s probably not healthy to be obsessing over someone’s social media activity that much, even if you bear them no ill will.

Unless we all vow to never update our apps again, it looks like we’re all going to have to get a lot more creative about the way we source our goss. Back to the cork board with you!

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