Smartphone Stalking

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Playing High-Tech Harassment

Smartphones seem to have become a staple in modern society; however, the high-tech devices potentially can open a doorway into the dangerous world of digital stalking.

“It’s so easy these days. All you really need is someone’s phone number,” family medicine physician Dr. Rachael Ross explains. “If you have someone’s mobile phone number, you can find an app that will actually allow you to track and see exactly where that person is.”

Geotagging functionality, which allows people to tag photographs with specific locations, is automatically enabled on most smartphones and other mobile devices. Certain apps that use GPS technology can highly increase the risk of being stalked by smartphone.

When people use their smartphones to “check in” at locations, they not only reveal where they are at any given time, but they document a digital record of their frequent stops. Online predators also can create fake identities on social media sites to bait unknowing victims.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 30 percent of stalking offenders in the U.S. are either intimate partners or current or former spouses of victims. Forty-five percent of stalkers are acquaintances, and less than 10 percent are complete strangers. In addition, NPR recently surveyed more than 70 domestic violence shelters across the U.S. and found that 85 percent of victims’ abusers had tracked them using GPS.

While GPS can serve as an invaluable resource for parents who want to know their children’s whereabouts at all times, precautionary measures still need to be taken. People should adjust the privacy settings on their phones, make their online profiles private and be wary of accepting friend requests from strangers.

“At least, be aware,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says. “If you are [using] these apps where your location is constantly shared with friends, just keep in mind that there may be people beyond your friends who know exactly where you are.”