Switching on to Online Safety

For Support: (03) 8517 5999 Click to Donate or call: 1800 539 474

7 July 2020
By Naomi Sherborne and Cassandra Barrett

Technological innovations over the past few decades have connected and assisted us in ways that were previously inconceivable. We can shop online, catch up with friends, communicate with loved ones overseas, find the answer to any question at the touch of a button – the possibilities are truly endless.

However, as is often the case, these innovations can be double-edged: just as applications and smart devices can help us, they – and the people that use them - also have the potential to harm us.

According to the Office of the e-safety Commissioner, technology-facilitated abuse is ‘any behaviour that uses technology to harass, monitor, stalk, impersonate or make threats in order to control, frighten or humiliate someone’.

While technology-facilitated abuse is not entirely new - one Jewish Care staff member recalled a client from the late 90s who discovered that her ex-partner had sewn a dictaphone into the lining of her handbag - with our growing reliance on and access to devices it has become much easier to perpetrate.

This has been particularly true during COVID-19, with most Australians spending more time online – whether for work, study or leisure – than ever before. Traffic to the eSafety website doubled over the first half of 2020 and the Office recorded a 200% increase in image-based abuse over March and April.

Technology-facilitated abuse refers to a range of behaviours, including:

  • Sending abusive text messages or emails
  • Making threatening phone calls
  • Using social media to abuse or denigrate, or gaining access to a person’s accounts without their permission
  • Using software to spy on online activities or record a person’s conversations
  • Using of tracking systems to stalk a person or monitor their whereabouts
  • Sharing intimate photos of a person without their consent (image-based abuse).

Technology-facilitated abuse can be highly distressing, debilitating and – particularly in the period immediately after leaving an abusive relationship, when the risk of violence is known to be much higher – can place a person in very real danger.

While “just stay offline” might seem like helpful advice, the reality is that such a large proportion of our lives – work, socialising, ‘life admin’ like bills and banking - are now online that for most it is neither a feasible nor fair solution.

Fortunately, there are a range of strategies that can be put in place to help protect against technology-facilitated abuse, as well as places to go for help if a person is concerned that their online safety may have been compromised.

Warning signs or red flags:

  • Device temporarily goes missing
  • Passwords stop working
  • Emails stating that another device is attempting to gain access to an account
  • Giving the victim or children new devices
  • The person seems to know where you or your children are, who they are with and what they have been doing, or shows up unexpectedly where you are
  • The person knows or has access to information that was exchanged in private conversations, messages or emails
  • The person wants to control when you can access your devices, or tries to take them away
  • The person installs a new camera or security system without warning or reason
  • Unusual financial transactions
  • Device running more slowly than usual or taking a long time to shut down
  • Unexplained spike in data use
  • Battery being used up more quickly than expected
  • Unexplained sounds or disturbance during phone calls
  • Abusive or threatening emails, texts, calls or messages from unknown number(s)
  • Fake social media accounts in your name
  • Evidence of unusual activity, eg. unfamiliar websites in search history, emails that have been read, sent or deleted from your account without your knowledge.

What you can do:

  • Google yourself regularly to ensure your details are not publicly available online
  • Make a tech family agreement to discuss what apps you are using, the importance of keeping safe online and the strategies that can be used
  • Add passwords and pins to all devices, and enable Auto-Lock
  • Be cautious when using free WiFi
  • Be aware of which apps use your GPS tracking, and turn off when not in use
  • Switch off location services wherever possible
  • Avoid using stored or saved passwords when logging in on devices
  • Log off and sign out after using accounts, rather than simply closing the window
  • Choose unusual passwords that can’t be guessed and change them regularly. Do not write them down anywhere
  • Use private or incognito mode when browsing, or clear your history after use
  • Increase privacy settings on your social media accounts
  • Avoid posting identifying information online, such as your workplace or children’s school
  • Ask friends and family not to tag you or check-in with you on social media
  • Be aware of sharing your information on fitness apps such as MapMyRun
  • Update your security software when prompted
  • If you do need to get a new device, do not back up your contacts to the new phone as spyware can easily be transferred – update them manually instead.

Ultimately, if something doesn’t feel right – trust your intuition and seek out support. The Office of the e-safety Commissioner has a range of fantastic resources to support safety online and help prevent technology-facilitated abuse, including:

  • The quick technology check-up quiz – find easy ways to improve your safety online
  • Creating an online safety plan for you and your family
  • The online safety checklist - before and after leaving a relationship
  • The online safety checklist for family and friends
  • The social media checklist
  • Securing your accounts and devices

We all have the right to feel safe online. Remember: if in doubt, check it out.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, please reach out.

Jewish Care – 8517 5999
1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
Safe Steps – 1800 015 188
w|respect – 1800 542 847

In an emergency, call 000.