Staying Safe Online
While HAVEN has taken steps to protect your safety and anonymity, there are other ways you should protect yourself while online. WomensLaw.org put together a very useful list of questions and answers about Internet security.
Can the abuser see what websites I have visited?
Yes. There are a number of different ways that the abuser can tell what websites you have visited:
- Your computer automatically saves a list of pages that you have visited in your Internet history and cache files (data that is temporarily stored on your computer, such as websites, graphics, etc.). Learn more about clearing your browser.
- Your computer may save copies of some of the websites you have visited in something called a temp file.
- Some websites contain “cookies,” files that automatically save onto your computer that show which websites you’ve visited and any information you may have entered onto the site, such as your name, address, etc. You can prevent cookies from saving onto your computer by changing the privacy settings on your Internet browser, which are often located in the “Tools” or “Options” menu.
- If your computer has an AutoComplete function and it’s turned on, your computer may remember things you have typed into your web browser.
- The abuser may have installed spyware on your computer, which may keep track of where you have been on the Internet and who you have sent email to. There are things you can do to hide your Internet activity, such as deleting your Internet history, but be aware that if the abuser has access to your computer, he may be able to check and see that you’ve done so. It is impossible to completely hide your tracks — especially if the abuser knows a lot about computers — since there are other ways Internet activity can be monitored. The safest way to find information on the Internet is at a computer that the abuser cannot access. Try using a computer at a local library, a community center, a friend’s house or work.
How can I make it less likely that the abuser will find my personal information on the Internet?
There is no way to completely remove all of your personal information from the Internet. However, here are a few steps you can take to remove as much of it as you can.
First, you should try to delete as much of your personal information off the Internet as you can on your own. You may want to write down all of the websites that contain any of your personal information (Flickr, Facebook, an old blog, etc.) and go through and delete those pages. If you are not sure where your information appears, you may want to use a search engine, such as Google, to enter your name and see what comes up. Then you can go to those sites to see if your personal information is listed and delete it if you can.
Second, if there are websites that contain some of your personal information that you cannot delete yourself, you can ask the person in charge of the site (the webmaster) to remove the information for you. Most of the time you will be able to find a contact email address on the site and email the webmaster directly to request that the information be taken down. If you can’t find the webmaster’s email address on the site, look for a phone number or mailing address and contact the website that way. If it is not done the first time you request it, follow up and contact them again.
Is there anything I can do to cut back on the amount of my personal information that gets onto the Internet in the first place?
Yes, there are a few things you can do. Using a made-up name and email address when you post any sort of comments on blogs or other sites that are accessible to the public can cut down on sites that the abuser can find if he searches for you on the Internet.
Before buying anything off of the Internet, check to make sure that the site is secure. The site’s web address should start with https://, and there should be a lock icon on the page somewhere (a little picture of a padlock). If you only put your information into a secure website, you can decrease the chances that an abuser who knows how to get information from an unsecured site can get access to your personal information. To be extra secure, you can choose to not buy things off the Internet. If there is something that can only be purchased online that you really need, ask a family member or friend to buy it for you using his/her name and address.
If asked by a website if it can share your information with “associates of the site” or “selected partners,” say “No.” If you agree to let the website share your information, you will have no control over how any site that is given your information will use it.
Be aware of how much identifying information you are posting on any of your social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Remember to consider what information you want everyone, including an abuser, to be able to see. If you moved to get away from the abuser, there is a possibility he could identify your location through pictures, videos or general information on profiles. If you post information to the Internet from your mobile device, it is possible that the picture has what is called “geotagging.” Geotagging is data imbedded in the image that contains exact latitude and longitude coordinates of your location. Learn how to disable geotagging on your smartphone.
Also, anytime you buy a magazine subscription, give your name and phone number to a cashier at a store, or provide your personal information to any company, that information could find its way onto the Internet. Think carefully before giving out your personal information to anyone.
I’m planning on moving. How can I keep my new address confidential?
It is difficult to really keep your new address completely confidential, but there are some things you can do to lessen the number of individuals or businesses that have access to it.
Many states now have address confidentiality programs set up for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and stalking. Generally, in these programs, all your mail will be sent to a safe location and will then be forwarded to your new address so that you do not have to give your new address to anyone. To find out more about the program in your specific state: type “address confidentiality program” plus the name of your state into a search engine such as Google. If your state has a program like this, it may be a better option than filling out a change of address form with the post office. The U.S. Postal Service enters all of these addresses into the National Change of Address Database, which would likely provide them to marketing companies, lenders, magazines, etc. The more companies that get your information, the higher the chance that your new address could end up on the Internet and in the hands of the abuser.
Can the abuser access my email account?
Maybe. There are a number of ways the abuser could have access to your email account:
- If you share an email account with the abuser, he will be able to read any of the emails in your account.
- If you use a web-based email program like Gmail or Yahoo, your email account may be visible to someone who visits those websites on your computer unless you properly log out. Just closing your browser is not enough — you must first log out of your account to make sure that when the abuser goes to the email program’s website, your personal account information won’t be on the screen.
- If you use one of these web-based email programs, the abuser may be able to access your email account if he knows your email address and password. Note: Some people’s computers save their email address and password for them. If your computer has your email address and password saved, anyone with access to your computer can read your email.
- If you use a computer-based email program like Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or Apple Mail, anybody who has access to your computer can read your email.
- If the abuser knows your email address, remember to not open any email attachments sent from the abuser or to reply to an email sent by the abuser using your new email account, because these actions may let the abuser install spyware on your computer and track your email messages.
- Most computers now have a function called “AutoComplete,” which stores information you’ve typed on your computer in the past. For example, if AutoComplete is turned on, when you go to type something into a search engine such as Google, a pop-up box will appear and list the things you’ve searched for in the past. (You may also see this pop-up box when entering your credit card information or your address into an online form.) If you have AutoComplete turned on, the abuser may be able to access your email account even if you haven’t told him your email address or password.
If you’re not sure whether the abuser has access to your email account, for your safety, it’s best to act like he does and avoid sending emails you wouldn’t want him to see.
What safety steps should I take even if I think the abuser does NOT have access to my email account?
If you believe that the abuser does NOT have access to your email account, here are a few steps that you may want to take anyway, to try to keep your email account secure:
- Make sure you have a password the abuser will not be able to guess. Pick a password that does not contain obvious information (such as your name, birthday, social security number, pet's name, etc.), which the abuser could guess. It may also be a good idea to change your password regularly. If you are not sure how to change the password on your email account, you can likely find that information by going to “help” or “?”.
- Do not write down your password. Make sure you change your computer settings so that it does not save your username (email address) and password. Your computer may ask you if you want to save your username and password after you enter it. Make sure to click on “no”.
- When you are finished using your email, always log out or sign out. If you do not hit “log out” or “sign out,” your email account may still be open due to a feature called AutoComplete, even if you close the window.
- If you do decide to give the abuser your email address, remember to not open any email attachments sent from the abuser or to reply to an email sent by the abuser using your new email account because these actions may let the abuser install spyware on your computer and track your email messages.
How do I know I am sending email from my account or from the abuser’s account when I click on an email link that I found on a website?
As you are browsing the Internet, you may come across an email address that you can click on in order to send an email to that address — something that looks like this: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you share a computer with the abuser and click on an email link, you may be sending the email from the abuser's email address without even knowing it. This could put you in danger since whoever you wrote to may try to write you back, but will be writing to the abuser’s email address instead.
It is safer to copy the email address and paste it directly into a new message from your own email account.
What should I do if I receive threatening or harassing emails from the abuser?
You should print and save any threatening or harassing email messages the abuser sends you because they may be used as evidence of his abuse in court or with the police. To be able to prove that the abuser sent these messages, you may have to print out the messages with the “header,” which shows the account information of the sender of the email.
Additionally, depending on the content of the messages and how many he sends, he may be committing a crime, such as stalking or harassment. You can report any threatening or harassing emails to the police.
How do I prevent someone from seeing my Facebook profile?
If there are certain people who you do not want to see your information, you can either “unfriend” them if they are already your friend or block them completely. (NOTE: It is possible to be friends with someone yet limit the amount of information they can see. Due to the continuous changes in Facebook privacy settings, the specifics of this function are frequently changing. If you want to learn more about how to do this, check out the Facebook Safety Center.)
“Unfriending” someone: If you are already friends with someone but you no longer want him/her to see your profile, you can “unfriend” that person which means he will only see your profile as someone who is not your friend; for example, just your cover photo or your city. He will not be notified through Facebook when you do this, but if he checks your profile, he will probably realize you two are not friends anymore. To “unfriend” someone: Go to that person’s timeline > Hover over the Friends box at the top of their timeline > Unfriend.
Block someone: Blocking someone will mean that he cannot see any of your activity on Facebook, including your profile or things you write on other people’s walls. This is the best way to keep your information safe from someone if you plan to remain on Facebook. To block someone: Click on the padlock icon at the top right of any Facebook page > How do I stop someone from bothering me? > Enter the name or email address of the person you want to block > Block.
Someone is harassing me on Facebook. What do I do?
If someone is harassing you on Facebook, you can Block/Report that person to Facebook. Reporting someone on Facebook is anonymous and simultaneously blocks this person, which means neither he/she or you can see each other’s presence on Facebook. Read more at Report Abuse and Policy Violations on the Facebook Help Center.
You may also want to consider getting off Facebook temporarily. To deactivate your account: Drop-down menu on top right > Account Settings > Security option in left-hand column > Deactivate your account > Confirm.
Can I get an order of protection against someone who is stalking or harassing me on Facebook?
Maybe. Depending on what type of harassing or threatening messages are sent to you or written about you, you may be able to report it to the police and have the person arrested. To do so, you would likely need to print out the harassing comments so that they are preserved for any possible future prosecution.Visit our Personal Protection Orders page to learn more.
Can I permanently delete my Facebook profile?
Facebook answers this question in detail on their Help Center section. To permanently delete your profile, you can log in to your account and submit a form to Facebook.
How can I prevent someone from finding me on Twitter?
To prevent someone from finding you on Twitter, you can click on the drop-down menu on the top right > Settings > Tweet Privacy and click “Protect my Tweets.” This means you will need to approve anyone who requests to follow you. This will also remove your tweets from the public timeline.
You can also block or report individual people from seeing your profile. Do this by going to the Twitter home page of the person you want to block, going to the drop-down menu on the right and clicking “Block” or “Report.”
Read more about privacy on Twitter.
Twitter also offers the option to tweet your location. This means that Twitter can identify where you are based on your browser or device (like a cell phone). The default setting for this option is currently set to "Off,” so you will have to actively opt in to turn this function on. If you opt to turn this on, your location, whether it is a neighborhood or an exact latitude and longitude, is shared with the entire Internet — unless your tweets are set to be protected.
How do I keep my blog safe?
The best way to keep your blog safe is to not write personal or identifying information on it. Some people treat their blogs like diaries, but this can be very dangerous if you are in or have left an abusive relationship. If you have a blog, no matter what kind of information you post, it could be a good idea to make the blog available by invitation only.