When my happily ever after ended, I had more rude awakenings than Lady Gaga has costume changes. One of these realizations? Just how entangled my soon-to-be-ex husband and my tech worlds had become in only a few short years.
Throughout my marriage there was no hesitation to share mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, cars (with GPS), emails, usernames and passwords. It was all part and parcel of doing life as a team, after all. But when I realized just how much of my personal info my ex could get his hands on, I felt even more vulnerable.
Times have changed
Back in the day, we built relationships in person 一 not via text message. We actually had to muscle up the courage (and the time) to meet face to face. There was limited or no internet. House phones were attached to the wall; mobile phones were the size of bricks. There were no computers under the bonnet of cars, let alone in a small box on the dash instructing you on how to drive from A to B. Bring back memories? My children now refer to it as “the olden days”! Gee, thanks, kids!
Technological advancements have changed the face of dating and relationships, in good and not-so-good ways. Yes, it’s easier and faster to invite someone out (and book a fancy dinner reservation), but! It’s also easier for a partner or ex to infringe on your privacy and personal safety.
The two sides of tech
Love it or hate it, you can’t argue: technology enhances and improves our lives in so many amazing ways. But in the wrong hands, like a disgruntled spouse or ex, and technology can be used as a tool to control and monitor.
Let’s not shy away from what this is: domestic abuse. The abuse doesn’t have to be physical to have a devastating effect, and controlling behavior is unacceptable in any form. This is, unfortunately, a worldwide problem.
One in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. In the US, one in three women experience intimate partner violence, while in the UK there were two million adults who were victims of domestic abuse in the last year alone. Yes the stats show us that more women than men are impacted by domestic violence – but, let’s not forget that men can be victims too. (Here you can find more information on what constitutes family and domestic abuse.)
If you’re experiencing family or domestic abuse, contact authorities or support agencies in your local area or state immediately (and keep a record of all incidences and reports made for future use). Or, at the very least, reach out to family or friends who can provide you with support.
Whether you’re in a volatile situation or you’re looking to pre-empt any privacy issues, there are plenty of ways to reclaim your power.
Let’s say, you’re concerned about an email from your lawyer being intercepted by your partner or ex, a bank statement being opened without permission, or you are worried about being physically tracked and interrogated here’s how to protect yourself.
Nine steps to ex-proof your tech
1. Start with your computer
How scary is this: your spouse or ex could be spying on you through your computer right now. Yep, anyone can install a program on your computer that logs everything you type into it (check out keylogger surveillance technology). Apartment searches, password changes, emails… they can access it all. Uninstall the program, and the person who installed it will likely be notified, so for sensitive searches, like a new home or correspondence with a lawyer, consider logging in at the library, internet cafe or community centre. And always, always, always empty your computer’s recycle bin before shutting down the computer.
IMPORTANT: Turn off iCloud sharing on all of the devices you use.
Plus, see that little camera on your computer? Cover it with a sticker: it can be hacked and used like a peephole. No thanks!
2. Erase your history
Ah, if only the not-so-nice memories of your relationship could be so quickly erased as your internet activity. Clear your browser’s ‘history’ and caches after each log on so your ex can’t see that search you just made for ‘how to get a divorce’. Don’t know how? Google “how to clear your history and caches for X browser” – on a computer that your partner or ex is not potentially monitoring.
3. Safeguard your email
Hate to tell you this, but if your ex knows you well enough, they’re going to guess your email password… and could get access to all that important incoming and outgoing mail. So no pet/children names, no birthdays, no ‘maidenname123’; it’s time to think like a spy and go for a random password. Now, change it often. If you’re really concerned, set up a new email address (Gmail has free ones), choose an address that doesn’t contain your name, and only access it on public computers (don’t forget to logout!).
Make it a habit of deleting e-mails from the “Sent” or “Outbox” in addition to your “Inbox” and then also delete the e-mails from the “Deleted Items” folder. In Gmail, delete email from All Mail. However, before you do, print or forward on to a legal representative any emails that should be formally documented.
4. Rethink your phone
Phone bills: no one likes them at the best of times, especially if they’re being used by your partner or ex to track who you’re contacting. If possible, get a PO Box or redirect your mail to a safer location so that your mobile phone bill can be sent directly to you. Keep change for a payphone should you need it and contact your local domestic violence hotline to learn about donation programs that provide new mobile phones and/or prepaid phone cards to survivors of abuse.
Did your partner sort out your phone for you? Consider turning it off when not in use; they could be using it as a tracking device. And check the settings: turn location services off when you don’t need it.
5. Get savvy with social media
It’s amazing what you can find out about someone just via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Review and update your privacy settings frequently and make sure to change your password periodically. Avoid tagging where you’ve been or checking into locations… you don’t want your spouse or ex to work out your daily routine.
6. Protect your passwords
Never, ever, ever store your passwords, in hard form on paper or in your internet browser. Don’t use the same password across different channels, and again, don’t make them obvious (using both letters and numbers helps, too).
7. Hide your movements
GPS trackers help parents keep track of their children, but these devices can also be misused to spy on other adults and placed everywhere from your car to your purse – so be aware. Your phone can be used as a tracking device, too, with tracking apps (including Find My Phone) monitored remotely. Visit a mobile specialist to check if there are any apps or tracking devices on your phone or tablet – and also check if the disarming of these app will notify the installer.
8. Shield your public records
There’s plenty of information available on most of us, thanks to government records and services. Google your name and you’ll see what I mean (and if you find anything that could help your spouse or ex track you, have it removed). File a request that the court, government, post office and others seal or restrict access to your info to protect your safety, and make sure you’re not listed in the white pages. Consider a PO Box for all your correspondence to keep your real address off the record.
9. Consider your kids
Unfortunately, it’s not just your devices that can be hijacked by your spouse or ex–it’s certainly possible for them to use your kids’ tech to get information on you or to track your movements. For example, if your child’s tablet is linked to your account, your ex could be accessing your messages. The camera can be hacked (try the sticker trick again) and they can also have tracking apps installed. Consider taking all the devices in your household to a computer specialist (like the Genius Bar for Apple products) to ensure your privacy is protected.
It’s a lot, I know, but taking these steps will go miles towards keeping you safe.
For more information, check out these resources:
– Relationships Australia – Australia
– Centre for Relationship Abuse Awareness – Canada
I truly hope this information aids those who are facing difficult times in their relationship and have privacy or safety concerns. Remember: always document each and every incident.
Once you’ve taken the steps above, I’ve got something else that will help you on your journey.
If you’re currently facing the reality of a breakup, separation, divorce, co-parenting journey or are a victim of domestic abuse, there is now an app to help you document absolutely everything – information, communication and evidence – so you’re ready for whatever legal obligations that may arise.
Now available on the Australian App Store and Google Play (coming soon to USA and UK markets).
For more support, you can download my e-book, 5 Separation & Divorce Hacks for free, right now. It’s packed with helpful tips and advice from those who’ve been right where you are now to help you go in the right direction faster, and with less pain.
If you have any other suggestions for securing your technology do let me know in the comments below!
You’re doing just fine. Take it one day at a time. And remember, be especially kind to yourself.
Founder | Hello Mojo