Research examines the risks and design challenges of accounting for privacy threats in intimate relationships.
As technology has become more ubiquitous in people’s everyday lives, a new class of privacy threats has emerged in family, romantic, friendship, and caregiving relationships. Dubbed “intimate threats” by a recent academic paper in the Journal of Cybersecurity, these are the thorny risks that are intertwined with issues around location tracking, always-on monitoring or recording, online surveillance, and the control over technology accounts or devices.
Written by Karen Levy, a lawyer and sociologist, and information security luminary Bruce Schneier, the paper examines how the dynamics of different intimate relationships break the security model in a lot of systems. It examines real-world examples of this in action and also provides some recommendations for technology designers and security professionals to start rethinking how they build products and think about threat models and security use cases.
The use of technology in intimate relationships can quickly turn dark with very little recourse from the victim because the product was never designed to account for abuse cases.
“Facebook had a system for a while where you’d get your account back because they’d show you pictures and you’d click on the ones that are your friends, assuming that you know who they are but other people don’t,” Schneier says. “But your partner and your parents all know that stuff too. So it’s a great system, but it fails in the intimate context. It fails when your boyfriend takes over your account.”