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Shelter ad warns about high-tech abuse Add to ...

Their partners scroll through their text messages. They inspect their call logs. They demand Skype and FaceTime check-ins as proof that their wives and girlfriends are where they say they are. It’s the downside of smartphone technology: Abusive husbands and boyfriends have a new way to control their partners.

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Toronto’s Interval House, the country’s oldest shelter for abused women, is shedding light on the different forms of abuse with an ad campaign launched Wednesday.

It looks like a smartphone commercial, but it’s a deliberate, dark spoof on sunny tech marketing.

Against a white background, set to upbeat guitar strumming, a hand holds an iPhone while a voiceover touts all the features of the device. But instead of bragging about apps that let users count their calories or find their parked car, the unsettling commercial notes that the phone can help abusers count calories in their wives’ and girlfriends’ meals, and find out where they have been and whom they have been seeing.

The message: “The technology has changed. The problem hasn’t.”

“People think the issue of abuse against women is done, it’s handled,” said Lesley Ackrill, executive co-director of resource development, communications and human resources at Interval House. “They think mostly of the violence, the physical violence. What they don’t understand is that as new technologies develop, there are new ways to exert power and control over women. It’s an issue that continues.”

To mark its 40th anniversary this year, the shelter wanted to speak to a younger audience, and raise awareness of the different forms abuse can take. The rise of GPS tracking within devices also raises concerns about new tools that could inadvertently aid in abusers’ controlling behaviour.

The idea is not to demonize technology, however. It can also help: Interval House has seen more women contacting the shelter through social networks, or through e-mail accounts they hide from their abusers, when they fear using the phone. Staff carry smartphones to respond to e-mails more quickly.

The Toronto ad agency Union deliberately designed the ad to be a bit shocking.

“Those ads are so familiar to everyone, they’re so light and bubbly, that we really wanted to bring people along with that tone … and then to do that switch,” said executive creative director Lance Martin.

There is already a pop culture tradition of creating spoofs of Apple’s marketing. The agency wants to use that not for humour, but to start a conversation. The hope is that the ad will be shared on social media.

“Our goal was to raise eyebrows, not only with people around Toronto,” said Union’s director of account management, Dave Carey. “… We’re actually kind of hoping that Apple does take notice.”

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