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CITP Luncheon Speaker Series: Thomas Ristenpart – Tech Privacy and Safety in Intimate Partner Violence

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

This talk will not be livestreamed or videotaped.

No RSVP required for current Princeton faculty, staff, and students. Open to members of the public by invitation only. Please contact Jean Butcher at  if you are interested in attending a particular lunch.

Digital technologies, including mobile devices, cloud computing services, and social networks, play a nuanced role in intimate partner violence (IPV) settings, including domestic abuse, stalking, and surveillance of victims by abusive partners. This talk will survey recent and ongoing work in understanding technology’s role in IPV and improving technologies to increase privacy and safety for victims.

A recent qualitative study will be discussed that was conducted in collaboration with the New York City Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Findings from semi-structured interviews with 40 IPV professionals and nine focus groups with 32 survivors of IPV reveal a complex set of socio-technical challenges. The intimate nature of the relationships involved undermine the threat models underlying common security and privacy tools, which allow even technically unsophisticated abusers to install spyware on victim devices, compromise social media accounts, and post abusive Facebook messages that remain undetected by the platform. Exploration of the current support infrastructure and procedures used in this context find that professionals and victims alike feel overwhelmed by tech-born threats and that there are no best practices for tech safety in IPV.

The work performing a technical measurement study of smartphone spyware, which is easily obtained by abusers from the Google play store or the web, will be discussed. A complexity here is “dual-use” software such as Find My Phone type apps, which are being repurposed by abusers to work as spyware. The work regarding evaluating existing anti-spyware tools, which prove to currently be unsuitable for the IPV context, and an outline citing ongoing and future work on improving victim safety and privacy will be discussed.

This talk will cover joint work with: Nicola Dell, Peri Doerfler, Rahul Chatterjee, Diana Freed, Sam Havron, Karen Levy, Damon McCoy, Diana Minchala, Hadas Orgad, and Jackeline Palmer.


Thomas Ristenpart is an associate professor at Cornell Tech and a member of the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University. Before joining Cornell Tech in May, 2015, he spent four and a half years as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He completed his Ph.D. at UC San Diego in 2010. His research spans a wide range of computer security topics, with recent focuses including digital privacy and safety in intimate partner violence, new threats to, and improved opportunities for, cloud computing security, confidentiality and privacy in machine learning, and topics in applied and theoretical cryptography. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, ABC News, U.S. News and World Report, and elsewhere. His work has been recognized by the UC San Diego Computer Science and Engineering Department Dissertation Award, an NSF CAREER Award, Best Paper Award at USENIX Security 2014, Distinguished Student Paper Award at Oakland 2016, and a Sloan Research Fellowship.

To request accommodations for a disability, please contact Jean Butcher, , 609-258-9658 at least one week prior to the event.