Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Technology, domestic violence, anonymity

There's a US initiative to "promote safe technological practices" involving the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), who "works closely with technology companies to inform survivors and domestic violence service programs on best practices for security and privacy".

They sponsored a panel last week with Google, Microsoft and Verizon, but I haven't heard anything much about it.

There was a short Microsoft blog post on it and on MS technology, but I don't see how the Microsoft technologies mentioned would help "maintain confidentiality following the end of an abusive relationship."

Anti-spyware can detect installed monitoring software, and Vista warns when monitoring is turned on, but surely that will only help during the relationship, not after? It's creepy that your partner can try to spy on your computer activities, but knowing that they're doing it isn't enough in itself.

What about help on privacy and anonymity, and hiding one's online traces e.g. from a threatening ex-partner? Spyware as a stalking tool only works on the infected computer, but women can be stalked online generally.

We haven't heard much from Google or Verizon about what they're doing on this front, apart from:

"informed use of technology like wireless communication makes the difference in helping victims become survivors" and

"Google has worked with NNEDV to ensure that many of its products, including Street View and Search, incorporate strong privacy protections for victims of domestic violence and the shelters that provide them with safe havens" - what protections exactly, and how can victims avail themselves of them?

(If I'm being unfair and just missed it, do tell me.)

The NNEDV's Safety Net project is along the right lines but their advice is very short; a lot more needs to be done. All the same, this initiative is to be applauded, and at least the 3 corporations concerned have become involved.

All this does prove, though, that there is a legitimate place for digital anonymity, and I hope that any identity management system required by the US government and others will allow anonymity and not prevent it.

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