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Protect yourself from abuse: Remove 'Stalkerware' from your phone now

Do you know what apps are on your phone? Could someone be tracking you? It's good to be familiar with how your phone can track you and in some cases, help you.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Did you know that 77% of people own a smartphone and that they spend an average of five hours a day on them? 

Despite the widespread use, many people still aren't using their phones to full capacity or even understand all the options that can both protect them and yes, hurt them, particularly in the case of domestic violence

Unless someone is tech-savvy, they don't really know or understand what options are in their phones. This is unfortunate because a smartphone is the remote control of your life. 

Let's start with a negative feature on your phone: Location services. If you're in a toxic relationship, does that person know your passcode? It's important that these people don't have access to your phone's location. 

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Stalkerware: Is someone spying on you?

"There has been a rise in the use of 'stalkerware' that is being installed on people's devices, obviously without your knowledge," Connie Guglielmo, editor in chief of CNET. "This can disguise itself as a game, a calendar, even a calculator. People need to be aware that these devices which we depend on so much, are tracking you and keeping track of us." 

Stalkerware refers to a program or app that disguises itself as harmless software that enables someone to secretly spy on another person through their phone. 

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For someone in an abusive relationship, access, and tech like that could be dangerous. People should limit who has access to their password, review the apps on their phone regularly and if there's anything unfamiliar, delete it. As for location services, it's a good idea to choose the "only when using this app" option or turn it off completely. 

So how would you know beyond checking your apps if someone is spying on you? 

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing money@wcnc.com.

Check Your Battery

"If your device is consuming a lot of battery and you don't know why it could be because there is some sort of stalkerware on your phone or something that is tracking you without your knowledge," Guglielmo said. 

In September, the Federal Trade Commission banned an app called SpyFone that they said helped stalkers steal private information like photos, text messages, emails and passwords.

How your phone can protect you

Guglielmo said everyone should be aware of how their phone's Emergency SOS feature works. Here are instructions from Apple and Google.

"In many cases, it's about clicking a button on the side that will send an SOS to a person that you have identified in your contact list," Guglielmo said. "In some cases, you can send a photo or an audio recording of the last few minutes with that SOS. So, be aware of how to use this feature."

How to use Emergency SOS on your iPhone

  1. Press and hold the side button and one of the volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. 
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and volume button, a countdown will begin and an alert will sound. If you hold the buttons until the countdown ends, your iPhone will automatically call emergency services.
  3. If enabled, your iPhone will also send an automated text message to a contact of your choice.

How to use Emergency SOS on your Android phone

  1. Enable Emergency SOS in your phone's setting under "Safety and Emergency."
  2. To make an emergency call, press the power button five or more times quickly.

Users can open the Personal Safety app to share their location with contacts, as well as get help quickly during an emergency. This app also allows users to record, back up and share video in an emergency. 

A digital checkup is good every few months, too. Understanding the power your phone has beyond sending text messages and taking calls might save your life. 

Contact Bill McGinty at bmcginty@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook.

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