So-called privacy breeds evil

Rosanna Bellini, Emily Tseng, Nora McDonald, Rachel Greenstadt, Damon McCoy, Thomas Ristenpart, Nicola Dell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    A growing body of research suggests that intimate partner abusers use digital technologies to surveil their partners, including by installing spyware apps, compromising devices and online accounts, and employing social engineering tactics. However, to date, this form of privacy violation, called intimate partner surveillance (IPS), has primarily been studied from the perspective of victim-survivors. We present a qualitative study of how potential perpetrators of IPS harness the emotive power of sharing personal narratives to validate and legitimise their abusive behaviours. We analysed 556 stories of IPS posted on publicly accessible online forums dedicated to the discussion of sexual infidelity. We found that many users share narrative posts describing IPS as they boast about their actions, advise others on how to perform IPS without detection, and seek suggestions for next steps to take. We identify a set of common thematic story structures, justifications for abuse, and outcomes within the stories that provide a window into how these individuals believe their behaviour to be justified. Using these stories, we develop a four-stage framework that captures the change in a potential perpetrator's approach to IPS. We use our findings and framework to guide a discussion of efforts to combat abuse, including how we can identify crucial moments where interventions might be safely applied to prevent or deescalate IPS.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number210
    JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
    Issue numberCSCW3
    StatePublished - Jan 5 2021


    • intimate partner surveillance
    • intimate partner violence
    • online forums

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
    • Human-Computer Interaction
    • Computer Networks and Communications


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