Introducing IPVTech Research Portal

Study and fight back Intimate Partner Violence via Technology with data!

In collaboration with the Tor Project and the Transition House, we developed a research portal for researchers (eg. advocates from the Transition House) to understand Intimate Partner Violence via Technology (IPVTech), and how device surveillance technology is involved in this process.

Besides, we also have an infographic describing the IPVTech process.

try it out
see the slides

read our case study


Tor/Transition House: Project Update

We continued our work on IPVTech Research Portal, a tool designed for advocates to help them find related cases of Intimate Partner Violence via technology.

We evaluated our previous iteration and made some modifications. We took into account issues such as privacy and potential legal caveats; we tried to define categories for cases; we explored more sources of information and considering include court decisions into our datasets.

We revisited how our product is integrated into the advocates’ workflow. We decided and drafted some mini infographics describing the new workflow, which will serve as our introductory material.

Besides, we started to work on our case study.

Some screenshots (see case study for more):
codesign 21-1

codesign 22-2

Tor/Transition House: Project Update

During this week, we scraped the data from Cambridge police logs. We’ve got roughly 3600 lines of data of police reports. We’ve found that some of them are relevant to our research. (e.g. search with keywords like “computer” or “hacking”) There are also other interesting findings, such as police refer “domestic violence (DV)” to “domestic dispute”, which may provide some insight to workers in DV field.

We started to design the user interface for a database. Advocates can use this database to explore the uncharted sea of domestic surveillance. The database allow advocates and general public search among vast of police logs, which was unfriendly to researchers in the past. The database will also allow advocates and domestic violence shelter staff comment on logged cases, tag on cases to summarize device and technology uses, and submit new cases. This tool will be included in IPVTech, a resource center for people who want to eliminate intimate partner violence or abuse through technology.

The next step is to choose the proper web technology and build the interface out. We also contacted some interviewees and tried to reach out Cambridge Police. So interviews are also included in our schedule.



Tor: (Project Update) equipping advocates with data

We want to make something that really helps people in the field. We want to make something that will be not only opened or installed once. After further identifying the needs of our partners, we shifted the scope of our final product to a website that helps advocates to better carry out their job in helping domestic surveillance survivors.

The website will include statistics (data visualization) and qualitative descriptions of cases on stalking/harassment by digital devices. It will include information on digital forensic techniques that helps advocates know what we can do to this issue. A typical scenario of this website is when a survivor comes into a shelter and reports a case of digital-related stalking and harassment, the advocate can understand the issue by reading information provided by our mini website.

The most important task of this project is mapping the field. Knowing the enemies is the first step to drive off fear and defeat them. For this, Getting data is more important than talking about technology. In the past weeks, we are planning to interview several forensic experts. We’ve designed and revised the interview questions. We also collected resources (documents and papers) to understand this issue. We will finish scraping police logs from Cambridge police by this Friday, and build a database for further research.


Team Tor: DiscoTech and update

At this discotech, we showed visitors an interactive checklist to help a victim determine whether their various devices are infected and being used in their stalking. Then we discussed scenarios and potential solutions for stalking via digital communication tools. A visitor came up with the idea of collecting app fingerprints. Even if it is less likely to be delivered at the term end, it exemplify how existing product helps framing the problem.


Another workshop held in the DiscoTech was explaining encryption. Activities included showing how to fake an email on behalf of somebody else (via shell script), using GPGTools to sign emails, and using GPGTools and AESCrypt to encrypt files. The workshop also included trying to use RetroShare (a P2P communication tool encrypted under PGP), but it didn’t work out.

We also had some conversations with some of the guests on actions they would take if they noticed they were being digitally surveilled. What steps would they take. We also went through some of the source of data around abuse and which of those cases may have a digital surveillance component. Among conversations we had regarding possible tools, is a digital application fingerprinting software that could detect changes in applications or changes in the behavior of some of the applications and how that could be used to inform users of threats possible. The other application we brainstormed about was on an activity log, resident on the phone that tracks a users actions and phone operations. A technique akin to self surveillance which would then help one in curating and identifying suspicious behavior.


In the team meeting this week, we drafted three personas of users, in which we will pick one to work on. They are:


  1.  Advocates
    1. their ages range from teenager through elders
    2. their technical skills vary.
    3. They work at shelter organizations, generally focusing on all aspects of abuse and victim safety. Their focus is not on technology.
    4. When they are working, they are assigned to clients when they seek for help. During the help, they try to gain information from the client including feeling and mental status. Establishing the victim’s trust may take a long time.
    5. They need to assess the dangerousness of the victim’s situation quickly, in order to determine the best course of action for the victim.
  2. Victims
    1. They are possibly stalked by someone they know.
    2. The stalker generally is an intimate partner, co-worker, or a fellow student. They use technology in stalking as a way to exert control.
    3. A victim could be male or female – though females are more likely to seek help.
    4. The victim generally has little technology understanding. The stalker surveilling them only has to be more technology aware than the victim.
    5. They need to figure out what’s happening – build a picture of what’s happening.
    6. They are not sure about when it started and how often it is happening. Information on anything they feel threatening can be helpful to alleviate their suffering.
  3. By-standers
    1. They are any third party to the stalker and victim.
    2. Friends or family members of the victim could be the most helpful.
    3. The victim generally only hints at the surveillance to friends or family as a quiet plea for help.
    4. Once aware of the problem, a bystander is in the best position to get involved and do something to support the victim.
    5. One thing they can do is tell the victim’s situation to somebody in authority – See something, say something.


Tor/Transition House – Project Update #1

Tue Feb. 25
Blog Post Draft
Today we discussed what surveillance means in domestic violence and what are the problems we can address on. We found that the subjects of surveillance are not limited to government or big firms: ordinary people – such as one’s close partner or an online stalker – can also be the subject of surveillance and do harm to the victims being surveilled.
Abuse leads to control. Control leads to surveillance. In many cases, people are living with their communication channels (e.g. Facebook accounts, mailbox passwords, cellphones) controlled by their partners or someone else. Victims in these cases are not facing death threats or under direct violence (forcing them seeking help from Transition House), but their abuse condition may last longer and be hard to escape from.
So the group of people we are serving is **the ones who are susceptible to “domestic surveillance”**. It is still hard to determine the size of this group. Some people claim that they are being surveilled and their devices are infected, but it may be a real security threat or just their own illusion.
The potential co-design projects forked from this domain are:
1. Build tools to help people find out whether their devices are infected, and whether their social network activities make them vulnerable of being stalked. The solution may be an extension of fuerza (, a set of security diagnosing questionnaires. The challenge is how to gain trust from clients using these tools, and what’s the next steps after diagnosis (how to detect the source of attacks, how to de-infect the device etc.).
2. Build dataset to understand to what extent our privacy and security are being compromised in terms of infected devices and other types of digital surveillance. Works may include interviewing local police departments or building tools to collect data.
3. Raise awareness among people about security risks within their mobile devices. (Perhaps we can make some educational tools?)
What are we going to do on the Discotech?
– a fast security check of cellphone?
– a mini game or some storytelling forms?
– hacking on codebase or content?


Hello world, I’m YU

(Technologies do not need to be new. Old tech or old-new hybrid tech is equally amazing when used on social causes)

I’m Yu, a first-year CMS graduate student and RA in Center for Civic Media. I like building things together with people. I’ve lighted up my skill tree as a researcher, web or non-web programmer, a media producer and (sometimes) a designer.

Oh, I’m working in the NGO20 project. Browse the map or follow us on twitter if you’re interesting in what’s happening in China’s nonprofit organizations and creative technologies for public good use.

I signed up for this course because I’d like to experience interacting creatively with the world through co-design methods, as well as meet the local community, and all the lovely people inside or outside campus. The mass-surveillance topic also gives me a chance to learn how people set their steps in the maze of such a complex cause.

For “the day we fight back” event, I joined the 5000 websites and installed the code on my MIT personal homepage. It is a large banner describing the arguments of the activity and what kind of action the visitor can take; the banner does not block the function of the website, and it disappeared in the next day (though I didn’t remove the code).

It’s a natural tendency to compare #StopTheNSA with “Stop SOPA” action. The latter one is more successful perhaps because of its obvious connection with the interest of big Internet companies such as google. “Stop SOPA” tries to stop an act, while “Stop the NSA” try to get an act passed. Though I doubt what the legislators may think when they are flooded with emails and phone calls with exactly the same content. Also, I appreciate this american boy (video) who argues that everything wrong with the action is that people should have their OWN voice instead of repeating someone else’s mechanically.

I’m also interested in the symbols or icons used in the action. In “Stop SOPA”, a simple black out square is adequate to convey the idea. In “Stop the NSA”, the “slap in the eye” symbol and the scary red-eyed NSA eagle are used in the action. Somehow I feel that it is not that intuitive in compared with the black out square. What do you think about it?