Stalkerware: A Growing Threat of Technology-Facilitated Violence

cell phone global positioning systemThe Citizen Lab, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, released a report highlighting the growing threat of technology-facilitated violence. In a two-part series, the watchdog group provides insights into some of the most concerning manifestations of privacy violations via intimate partner surveillance software. While often used for legitimate purposes, a variety of available applications “can constitute stalkerware under certain circumstances.” According to research, persons seeking to control their partner’s activities can install spyware on a targeted person’s mobile phone. In some instances, such monitoring behavior is magnified due to the regular use and accessibility of cell phones. The authors emphasize that:

“As new technologies have seeped into everyday life, aggressors have adopted and repurposed them to terrorize, control, and manipulate their current and former partners.”

The first part of the series, “The Predator in Your Pocket: A Multidisciplinary Assessment of the Stalkerware Application Industry,” provides a detailed overview of specific aspects of existing consumer spyware, including technical capabilities, marketing practices, current public policies, as well as commercial privacy legislation. The second part, “Installing Fear: A Canadian Legal and Policy Analysis of Using, Developing, and Selling Smartphone Spyware and Stalkerware Applications,” focuses on a broader legal assessment of stalkerware, as well as the further implications of such technology.

In conclusion, the authors offer a list of recommendations aimed to reduce the threat of stalkerware technology. Ultimately, the goal of this report is to “rebalance stark information asymmetries between the operator and target(s) of stalkerware” by proactively addressing intimate partner violence.

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