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.


Tor and Transition House

Surveillance, how it pertains to us personally if you’re in a relationship.

These notes were co-taken in class, and I think they were awesome enough to merit posting to the class blog.


– Sarah Cortes – a board member of Transition House, Tor researcher,  and a PhD candidate working on anonymous  networks.

– Andrew Lewman – a board member and executive director of the Tor Project, domestic violence advocate

Background Reading

Coercive control – 18 page summary

Tone and Terms

Domestic Violence. Violence is not the identifying factor of the problem. More of a myth and misconception that prevents people from understanding the underlying issue. Now it’s intimate partner abuse. Domestic is family – could be among many family members. Intimate partner abuse is just between intimate partners. Abuse means not just physical but also emotional, psychological, financial abuse, children. Many forms. Important to understand the terms we use.

Surveillance of government and partner abuse. Same concepts apply to both situations. One of the concepts in intimate partner abuse in the Western world is that intimate abuse is about a desire for control, due to an attitude of entitlement. Power and control. Similarly, a government’s surveillance is out of a desire for control and an a feeling of entitlement over citizens.


Entitlement in different societies, what are things you’re familiar with?

  • Class systems in cultures are based on cultures of entitlement
    • The US supposedly has no class system. But we do, we just don’t talk about it. What are these based on? Money and power. Point oh oh one percent is the concentration of wealth and power. Entitlement and the class system are about being sorted by wealth. Different entitlements and things.
    • Ethnicity and Caste. – Sri Lanka. We say we don’t have a caste-based system, but it feeds into how our class-based system are caste-based. Some are “more equal than others.”
  • Entities as … this is being drawn.

In intimate partner relationships.

If you think of them as their relative worth and needs and wants; if you think they have same relative worth and equal representation of needs and wants. In an abusive relationship, abusers feel their needs and wants and relative worth as significantly more prominent than their partner.

Abusers are people who have an attitude of entitlement over their partners.  We see this same entitlement in class based systems, for example, the US class system.

We tend to magnify the opinions of wealthy people and denigrate the opinions of less wealthy.

In companies – there are different cultures. Entitlement is based on performance or different classes of people depending on a hierarchy.

In Japan, another example is seniority.

In England or the UK – they have a class-based system based on nobility and a peasant class.

Another concept that is important to understand is a lot of misconceptions.

That abuse is caused by alcoholism, drugs, that people who commit physical violence belong to a different category of abusers. That’s not actually true. One concept of abusers is that there is a continuum of abuse. There is a continuum of abuse – physical abuse on the far end and sexual abuse on the other with emotional, financial to academic, etc.

Continuum of Abuse

Abusers feel the need to exercise control over their abusers. They employ tactics, whatever works. Typically, they start out with a small tactic, and eventually destroy the self-esteem of the group who is being oppressed. Initially the person who is being abused doesn’t understand what is happening. In most situations, eventually, the victim will start to fight back. At that point, the abuser will step up to a new strategy, abusing children, financial abuse.

Eventually, a cycle ensues in which the victim steps up and fights back until the abuser is committing physical and sexual violence.

Often we see there is a pattern of abuse and other people, neighbors, bystanders will have noticed.

Let’s turn to governments and surveillance. The same value system will apply — certain groups are targeted nad denigrated.

Certain groups are denigrated and entitled groups feel entitled to surveillance. Surveillance starts out small but then takes smaller steps to include more groups.

Nushelle: If you have a system with a very vocal civil society – what happens?

We say we’re in a state of undemocratic democracy. (didn’t hear the rest…). If people fight back, step up, where there be higher levels of surveillance?

Manipulation and Excuse Making

Abusers in all forms make use of both of these

– 1945 (corporate interests, those who wanted to be reelected)

Civilians heard a different story: American fighting for democrac

Vietnam War, gulf of Tonkin Incident:

Naval vessels came under attack from the North Vietnamese (FOIA reports later found that the second supposed attack, evidence was completely fabricated) to incite the public to support the war effort, escalating incidents but aren’t immediately clear. The idea is to divert people’s attention from what is really going on.

What is the cure/remedy

Due to attitudes and beliefs (women have less value, have certain characteristics), there is a belief then that that power and control has to be exercised over them, that other people have to continually to keep them under control.

The antidote is to change attitudes. courts started to

When governments perform surveillance – no one considers that it’s due to drug abuse or mental illness. It’s about belief in the inequality of those citizens.

Question and Answer

Question for those who have worked in domestic abuse in the past, is this type of training the same type of information you were given before? Or in sex ed class?

  •  A: Yes, we did talk about Imbalances of power, and attitudes and beliefs.
  • A: Ideas deal with breaking cycles of abuse?

Q: What happens when people step up to new levels?

  • A: If there’s no change in the attitude of entitlement, than abusers will continue to step up their tactics which is why abuse sometimes end in murder. It’s the ultimate expression of control over another.

In governments we find a continual escalation. Eventually this sometimes leads to abused communities fighting back. But the abuser can never accept that the victim is actually being victimized. The response is seen as an encroachment on their own entitlement. The response is seen as an attack. So whether it’s governments, or abusive partners, it will continue sadly to escalate if it’s not checked.

How does this apply to this class?

In the same way we see things such as physical abuse more noticeable as emotional and psychological abuse, we see an act of physical violence as a tangible line which we can respond. In the same way, with surveillance it has been a slow escalation but now there are new revelations about the extent of surveillance.

U.S. has different capabilities. US has been swallowing not only metadata but all phone comms; with potential to do so in 6-7 countries.  MYSTIC, revealed today in the Washington Post, from Edward Snowden’s leaked documents:

Do we all believe that the US is collecting metadata on all communications in one country?

People think it’s possible but not sure it’s happening. Afghanistan, Pakistan are listed as possibilities.

But this news is met with ho-hum because people don’t see how it applies to them.

On slowly boiling frogs:

Passing around book: Why Do They Kill

Where Does This Start?

Victims have no characteristics in common.

Targets of government system are pretty overt from race to class

Blaming the victim applies both to domestic abuse, and state surveillance: people assume ’they must have done something wrong.’

Children of abusers –  you learn power and control from watching the dynamics of your parents, foster care, schooling, whatever, where there is a vast power dynamic between you and the people in your life. Origin of the attitude of entitlement.

Research has found this: children feel pity and sorrow for the victim, but side with the abuser because that’s who has the power and can take on the attitudes of that.

Father to son characteristics. If the father is an abuser – the son is more likely to be an abuser. If the whole society doesn’t respect women, you don’t need this direct tie.

What if both parties want power? Same sex relationships have the same incidence of abuse – so it’s not just men who have a desire for control.

Cambridge is interesting because it’s where the oldest houses are. And the oldest intervention program.

It was called the Batterer Intervention Program.

Why should we stop cyber stalking and immediate manifestation if you don’t attack the fundamental underlying reasons for it. Research that helps victims understand why their stalkers know where they are at all times rather than seeing them as an all powerful person.

Men will often select women because of their apparent inability to respond. So tech savvy male abusers are likely to capitalize on our society’s inclination towards women not being tech savvy. The abused often see their abusers as all-powerful. So teaching them about tech teaches them that they’re not all-powerful.

This is the same premise as why DiscoTechs are powerful and useful.

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?