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How Tracking and Technology in Cars Is Being Weaponized by Abusive Partners

After almost 10 years of marriage, Christine Dowdall wanted out. Her husband was no longer the charming man she had fallen in love with. He had become narcissistic, abusive and unfaithful, she said. After one of their fights turned violent in September 2022, Ms. Dowdall, a real estate agent, fled their home in Covington, La., driving her Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan to her daughter’s house near Shreveport, five hours away. She filed a domestic abuse report with the police two days later.

Her husband, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, didn’t want to let her go. He called her repeatedly, she said, first pleading with her to return, and then threatening her. She stopped responding to him, she said, even though he texted and called her hundreds of times.

Ms. Dowdall, 59, started occasionally seeing a strange new message on the display in her Mercedes, about a location-based service called “mbrace.” The second time it happened, she took a photograph and searched for the name online.

“I realized, oh my God, that’s him tracking me,” Ms. Dowdall said.

“Mbrace” was part of “Mercedes me” — a suite of connected services for the car, accessible via a smartphone app. Ms. Dowdall had only ever used the Mercedes Me app to make auto loan payments. She hadn’t realized that the service could also be used to track the car’s location. One night, when she visited a male friend’s home, her husband sent the man a message with a thumbs-up emoji. A nearby camera captured his car driving in the area, according to the detective who worked on her case.


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