One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Foursquare May Have Safety Risks for Users August 16, 2011

Foursquare, a location-based social networking website for mobile phones that allows users to “check in” at locations of interest and compete with others for both virtual and real-life rewards, has grown in popularity to over 10 million users since its launch in 2009 (including, recently, President Obama). The program uses GPS to establish check-ins, which are then sent to users’ friends within the foursquare network and linked to Twitter and Facebook if they choose.

A recent Wall Street Journal study found that 60% of foursquare check-ins in a given week are made by men, as compared to 38% by women. Tech experts often explain tech differences like this in terms of men’s greater likelihood of becoming early adopters of social media, but foursquare’s statistics may be related to another concern for women users: safety.

I don’t use foursquare because of concerns about the safety of sharing my real-time location over the internet. But choosing not to use foursquare hasn’t completely protected me from location sharing because it has become a feature on other social media platforms as well. I realized recently I’d been accidentally broadcasting my location to all of my Twitter followers with every tweet because I had unknowingly clicked a button below the text box on my Android phone. My Twitter account is public, so I was shaken to realize how much information readers had been receiving.

Leo Hickman, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote an article last year about how he was able to stalk a random woman at a sporting event based on her foursquare posts. He raised concerns about privacy issues related to foursquare. “Sure, you might earn yourself a “free” decaf latte when you check in five times at a coffee shop, but at what price to your privacy?” Hickman wrote. In 2010, a San Francisco programmer was able to capture 875,000 supposedly private check-ins through a security loophole that was later fixed.

Location-based social media have exciting prospects, but some have noted that women in particular may not feel as free to use them for fear of unwanted surveillance. Especially for those involved in abusive relationships or for victims of stalkers, foursquare and programs like it could be used as weapons. And in a culture that frequently blames sexual assault victims because of their outfits or their level of intoxication, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that victims could also be blamed for “putting themselves out there” and inviting victimization by allowing others to view their locations on social media platforms.

Many tech experts say GPS-based apps will become even more ubiquitous in the future, and other social media platforms have already begun to adopt location-based elements. My experience with the GPS feature on Twitter caused me to scrutinize my privacy settings for my other social media accounts, but I still don’t feel confident I completely understand my chosen settings. I feel concerned that sites like Facebook may have made privacy deliberately complicated, causing users to choose more relaxed settings that allow advertisers to mine their data more easily.

How will developers be able to ensure safety as they continue to curate this technology? In a male-dominated field like computer science, how can we work to ensure an individual’s unique privacy concerns are taken into consideration throughout the development of new products? Leave a comment below to weigh in!

 

New DV Laws Have Mixed Results August 15, 2011

New laws intended to better protect victims of domestic violence have been passed in Connecticut and Kentucky.  Connecticut’s state legislature recently passed a bill that implements several critical measures aimed at protecting domestic violence victims from future harm.  The law gets rid of a provision which exempted abusers in dating relationships from being arrested for domestic violence.  Similarly the law allows people of any age, including minors, to get restraining orders against abusive partners.  This is particularly good news for teenagers because until now minors could only obtain protective orders against adults.  Lastly, the new law requires domestic violence offenders, who have been banned from possessing firearms, to surrender their weapons to police or federally-licensed firearms dealers.  Shockingly, before this bill was passed, these abusers had the right to surrender firearms to friends or family members.  This new law represents a major victory for domestic violence programs around the state.  Susan DeLeon, the director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven stated, “This is going to prevent people from dying.  It’s going to save lives.”

Similar efforts are being made in Kentucky.  In late 2009, Amanda Ross was fatally shot by former state legislator Steve Nunn.  Ross had obtained a protective order against Nunn six months before the murder.  Her death prompted House Speaker Greg Stumbo to propose Amanda’s Law.  Stumbo’s initial proposal would have allowed victims to request GPS monitoring of an abuser as soon as a domestic violence charge was filed in civil or criminal court.  However, the State Senate modified the bill.  Under the altered bill, an offender must commit a “substantial violation” of the protective order before GPS tracking can be requested.  A “substantial violation” includes kidnapping, terroristic threatening, or assault.  However, Amanda’s Law has had some positive effects.  The law requires judges, if requested by the petitioner, to review criminal backgrounds of offenders to determine if they have a pattern of violent behavior.  Since the law was enacted one year ago 25,843 background checks have been processed.

It will take more than legislation to end domestic violence, but improvements in the laws are necessary.  What do you think a good domestic violence law looks like?  How can you get involved to implement change?  Leave us a comment!

 

 
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