For those at risk from domestic violence, seeking help has never been so easy, thanks to the plethora of online resources. Then again, online activity leaves behind an electronic trail that abusers can follow to intimidate or harm their victims.

That’s why researchers at Newcastle University in the UK have developed a ‘cleaner app’ that deletes or blocks any evidence that an at-risk person was seeking help online.

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“For someone living in fear of abuse, the very systems set up to help them can actually be used against them,” Budi Arief, Center for Cybercrime and Computer Security at Newcastle University, explained in a news release. “What our technology does is erase these electronic footprints, allowing people to seek help in safety without fear of reprisal.”

While the base app erases browsing history, the most interesting parts of the system are the use of self-destruct QR codes and NFC technology, which will be embedded on self-help fliers posted in public.

The QR symbols are embedded with single use URL codes that, when scanned with a smartphone, take the user directly to a support site. As the name indicates, the link will only direct its user to a support site once. Any subsequent attempts to gain access will be directed to a safe page, for example the BBC News or Google’s home page.

Another feature includes NFC tech being embedded into a flier or postcard. Positioned in public places, the support center info is only available while the user is standing close to the poster. Once they leave the area, the information won’t be accessible via the history or back button.

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These two features will be used in conjunction with the cleaner app. Once selected, the app selectively wipes clean the user’s digital footprints and deletes any trace of their search for support — including browser history entries, temporary Internet files and cookies — while leaving other e-trails intact.

“Our work has highlighted a vulnerable group whose need for online access is greater than most. These people are prevented from getting help, not through a lack of access or digital knowledge but through fear,” said Arief.

“Our hope is these technologies can be used to overcome this particular barrier and give more victims of domestic violence the confidence to seek help.”

Credit: Susanne Borges/A.B./Corbis