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Social Media and Smartphone Safety for Victims of Family Violence

June 2018

Because technology is changing all the time, this article cannot cover every way that an abuser might use technology to locate or threaten someone.

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites?

  • Erase anything on your profile that says where you live. Even better, set your profile to private. In some cases, it may be best to take a social media break altogether.
  • Be cautious about accepting friend requests - especially from someone you don't know or from someone you thought was already your friend.
  • Don’t tweet or post status updates about your location. Think twice about tagging and checking in to locations on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. Ask your friends not to tag you when checking in to places and learn how to untag yourself from photos.
  • Search for your own name online. Check your name, any nicknames you use, and your phone number on different search engines. You'd be surprised what information your phone number can return about you. Consider changing your phone number if a Google search of your phone number returns any personal information.
  • Make sure there are no geotagged photos of you on Facebook or other web sites. Many photos are geotagged automatically, and those photos can have information about where the picture was taken. Even if your profile is private, geotagged photos of you may be public if they were posted by someone else.
  • If you’re using Twitter, make sure the “Tweet With My Location” setting is off. Learn more here:
  • Change your passwords regularly.

Even if you don’t think you’re being tracked, you should still be cautious about making your location public.

Do you have a smartphone?

If you have a smartphone and it’s possible that someone is tracking you, you should turn your phone completely off before you visit a legal aid office or a domestic violence organization.

It's not uncommon for someone to have been tracked through their smartphones because their abuser installed a tracking application or service.

There are dozens of tracking apps available and it’s impossible to list them all. If there is a tracking app on your phone, it may appear in the “Installed Programs” list. But tracking apps are not always easy to spot—sometimes they can be completely hidden unless you know where to look, or they may have a name that sounds like something else (like a game or a photo app).

If you think someone has installed a tracking app your phone, call your cell phone company and ask them to help you restore your phone to factory settings (also known as a “factory reset” or “wiping your phone”). Set a password for your phone and keep it with you at all times. Don’t let anyone use your phone—someone could install a tracking device in just a few minutes.

Many phone companies offer tracking services that can be purchased as part of the phone’s wireless plan. Some cell phone providers will send a message or alert when your phone is trackable, but it’s not safe to rely on these messages and or to assume that you can’t be tracked at other times.

If you think your phone is being tracked through your cell phone provider, it may be best to use a prepaid phone instead. Also, remember that most phones can’t be tracked when they’re turned completely off.

Tips for finding tracking apps on your phone

  • If you have an Android phone, check for a flashing satellite icon in the notification bar to see if your phone’s GPS is active.
  • On Windows phones, look for a shortcut under "Windows Startup Menu" to find programs that run automatically when the phone starts.
  • You may notice a decrease in battery life because the GPS is always on.
  • Some phones can broadcast your location even if your GPS is turned off.

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