Soon after the Coalition Against Stalkerware launched in 2019, its members got to work on spreading awareness about what we do, why we’re doing it, and what members of the public should know about the fight against a digital threat that can rob them of their privacy and their safety.
In January, some of our members participated in an evening panel during the Enigma 2020 Conference in San Francisco, an annual conference that presents engaging discussions on security and privacy. During our panel, which was attended by roughly 50 people, our members discussed the relationship between intimate partner violence and stalkerware.
Stalkerware presents a nuanced problem for users everywhere. Because it is often leveraged against survivors of domestic abuse, potential solutions do not come in a one-size-fits-all package. The domestic abuse survivor who lives with their partner might have less agency to detect and remove stalkerware than the domestic abuse survivor who has since escaped to a new physical location.
Unfortunately, for many domestic abuse survivors, the actual use of stalkerware can be hard to discern. Stalkerware apps can hide themselves from view, and for many domestic abuse survivors, downloading a stalkerware-scanning app may only further anger their abuser.
For many survivors, help is hard to reach. Some do not trust that their local police will take their safety concerns seriously, while others do not have a safe, non-surveilled device to contact a domestic violence shelter.
These are difficult problems to solve, and it’s partly why the Coalition Against Stalkerware includes representatives from so many sectors, including cybersecurity vendors, domestic abuse advocates, technological trainers, and digital rights activists. By sharing our expertise amongst one another, we hope to design guidance for multiple situations and multiple people.
Our panelists also discussed the difficulties in distinguishing between stalkerware apps and apps that have similar capabilities—like parental monitoring apps. Further complicating the issue is that several stalkerware apps advertise themselves as family safety apps, when in reality, what they provide is an unfettered level of access that can rob anyone of their privacy, peering into their text messages and social media posts and rifling through photos and videos that are meant to stay private.
We would like to thank every participant at the event, including Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at Electronic Frontier Foundation; Kevin Roundy, technical director for NortonLifeLock Research Group; David Ruiz, online privacy writer for Malwarebytes; Corbin Streett, senior technology safety specialist for the Safety Net Project run by National Network to End Domestic Violence; Laura-Kate Bernstein, senior counsel of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section for the US Department of Justice; and Kim Zetter, investigative journalist and author of Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the First Digital Weapon.