Last month,I wrote an article about different steps that people should take in safeguarding their personal information online. With a spate of recent data breaches at large companies, it’s no surprise that data security is on the top of everyone’s mind. But protecting one’s real-life safety when engaging on digital platforms has always been a chief concern for survivors of domestic abuse. Social media and personal websites often incite anxiety due to privacy concerns, and have the potential to pose tangible threats for survivors and current victims of domestic abuse.
However, there are so many reasons to engage online, and luckily, there are a number of resources that advise survivors on precautions to take to help engage online while maintaining safety. Although every case is different, and every survivor’s circumstances are unique, the following tips may provide helpful guidelines for those looking to engage online while maintaining safety.
The following information is pulled from the Safety Net Project, which is part of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. To see that full document visit Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors .
- A number of private organizations, agencies, services, and businesses gather and sell or share data about people privately and publicly online.
- These “information gatherers” can include both government and non-governmental organizations, schools, community groups, and online sites.
- Because of this, it’s possible that sensitive or identifying information is available online without a victim’s knowledge or consent.
With the explosion of the information available online, stalkers have a new tool at their disposal and can use the Internet to find out all kinds of information about the victim. This type of information can include everything from the location and contact information of the victim to information about their closest friends. In addition to using this medium to learn more about their victim, stalkers and abusers can use the internet as a weapon and mount campaigns meant to damage the reputation or even the credibility of the victim.
Steps You Can Take
- Google Yourself: Do a search on yourself (try this on a few different search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing) and find out exactly what information is available out there about you.
- Hold onto your Info: When it comes to sharing personal information (like your picture, phone number, email address, home address, work address), be cautious. You can always get creative in declining to share this information, or making up something false.
- Request the Removal of identifying information from public directories (both digital and hard copy). Find out how your court records can be sealed so as they are not published anywhere – a restraining order should help speed up this process.
- Use Strong Password
- Log Out of Accounts and Apps
- Regularly review privacy settings on all of your accounts – especially your social media accounts – but make sure that you do this for e-commerce accounts too.
- Disable GPS location sharing. Review your phone’s settings and make sure you know which apps have access to your location. Pay particular attention to this in your camera app so you avoid uploading your exact coordinates with an image.
- Take time to think about if/how you connect your social media accounts. Connecting them may expand the number of people that will have access to information about you and may be somewhat more difficult to manage.
- Avoid Free Wifi networks.
- Use an incognito mode when browsing – particularly if you are on a computer or device that doesn’t belong to you.
- Use different email addresses for different purposes.
Consult sources online and in-person if you are uncertain about how to shape your online presence and protect both your online data and your IRL safety. The above advice is just a starting place, and remember that the specifics of privacy concern will continue to change and grow with evolving technologies, so make sure to stay as up to date as possible.