Safety with Technology
Study our technology safety tips to ensure you’re spending your time online safely. In addition to these tips, we recommend HackBlossom’s DIY Cybersecurity for Domestic Violence.
Tip #1: Find out what the internet says about you and delete unauthorized profiles or images.
Before you can protect yourself online, you have to know what information is already available about you.
Step 1: Type your name (and any other names that you use) into a search engine, like Google.
Remember: There may be many people with your name. Here is an example of a Google search for “Tech Safety.” At the bottom of the page you will see a list of page numbers. Make sure that you search through multiple pages of your search. Information about you may not be on the 1st or the 2nd page.
Step 2: Go to all of the social networking sites that you use and search for your name.
The only page that should come up is the one that you created. If another account comes up, you may need to contact the website to ask them to take down the unauthorized information.
Step 3: Do an image search to see if there are any unwanted images of you on the internet.
To learn how to do a Google image search, click here.
Step 4: Document evidence.
If you see anything inappropriate when you do steps 1-3 (above), make sure that you take a screenshot so you have evidence in case you need the assistance of an attorney or law enforcement. A screenshot is a picture of the computer screen or smartphone screen. Once you take the screenshot on a computer, you need to paste the image into a word processing program (Wordpad, Microsoft Word, etc.).
Step 5: If there are any unauthorized images, webpages, profiles or information about you, contact the website manager to have it removed.
Tip #2: Create Safer Passwords
Your best protection online is creating and maintaining safe passwords for all of your private and confidential online accounts. The following steps will help you protect yourself.
Step 1: Make a list of all of your online accounts that have passwords, including:
Email and social networking accounts
Online banking and credit card accounts
Shopping websites like Amazon or anywhere with payment information
Student loan websites
Personal pages on school websites
Remember: It may also help to do an online search for your name so you do not forget about an account that you have not used recently.
Step 2: Create a unique password.
Many people like to use the same password for all websites, and it’s usually a password that’s easy to remember. For example, two of the most common passwords are “password” and “123456.” This can be a big problem if somebody decides to hack into your account — once they have one password, they have them all.
Tip: Create a password that is an entire sentence, including capitalization and punctuation. For example, “On Thursday I went to the basketball game.” Creating a sentence that is easy to remember but difficult for another person to guess is a good way of protecting yourself.
Make your password difficult to guess by incorporating both numbers and letters. Click here to access a random password generator.
Step 3: Change your passwords regularly.
Whether or not you remember giving your password to somebody else, it’s a good idea to change your passwords every 3 months. If you are leaving an abusive relationship, it may help to change your passwords even more frequently. Use the list that you created in Step 1, and create a new, safer password for each website.
Remember: Controlling partners may have downloaded spyware onto your computer to monitor you. If you are in or getting out of an abusive relationship, use a computer your partner has never used when you create the new passwords so that they don’t learn them.
Step 4: Do not automatically save your passwords.
Of course it’s easier to have your computer remember all your passwords. But it’s also easier for an abusive or other unauthorized person to gain access to your private information when you are not looking. Choose safety over convenience.
Step 5: Share this information with your friends.
Encourage your friends to follow these steps so that a stalker or abuser doesn’t hack into their account to get information about you. You can also order Day One’s guide on Technology Abuse. It’s free and you can order multiple copies.
Step 6: Never share your password!
Tip #3: Who’s Watching You?
Technology has made it easier for an abusive person to spy on you and to track your movements. The following steps will help you protect yourself.
Step 1: Trust Yourself.
Does someone keep unexpectedly showing up? Do they know too much about where you are? Trust your instincts. They might be tracking you.
Step 2: Check Your Phone.
Many phones have GPS, which can be used to track you. If you share a cellphone plan, some companies (e.g. Verizon, AT&T) allow users to track other members of the plan. Call the company and ask them to stop allowing anyone to track you. Even if you don’t share a plan, people may still be able to track you using applications like Google Latitude or Find my iPhone.
Tip: If you think somebody is tracking you with your cell phone, the safest thing to do is to turn off the phone and take out the battery.
Step 3: Check Your Computer.
Your computer can also be used to track you. Apple’s iCloud allows individuals to track computers, smartphones and other devices that are connected to the internet or another wireless network. An abusive person may also download “spyware” onto your computer which would allow the person to locate you.
Remember: Anti-spyware software is very important. Keep it up to date because new spyware is being created all the time. Once spyware is on your computer it is very difficult, and possibly impossible, to remove it.
Step 4: Check Your Car.
Many people use GPS devices in their car to get directions. Most GPS devices have downloadable software that enables a person to see where the GPS has traveled. Some software provides instantaneous information about where the GPS is. In addition, an individual may install a GPS tracker under your car, under the seat or hood, or in another secret place.
Tip: If you think that someone may have secretly installed a GPS device on your car, a local police department or a private company may be able to do a “sweep” of the car to check for a hidden device.
Step 5: Protect Your Privacy.
Make sure you’re in control of the ways a person can find you. Sometimes friends and loved ones accidentally tell an abusive ex where you are going; sometimes it is not an accident. Do not tell private information to people you cannot trust.
Many social networking websites (e.g. Facebook, foursquare, Grinder, Yelp) ask you to “check-in”. Remember, a check-in can be seen by many different people, and an abusive person could have access to that information, or know somebody who has access to that information. If you think you are being tracked, don’t check in.
Each time we take a picture with our smartphone, the picture contains hidden information like where the picture was taken. This information is called geotagging and it is a piece of a larger amount of information called “metadata.” Be careful with information that you post because the hidden metadata may provide a lot of information about you.
Step 6: Learn How to Browse the Internet Safely.
The best way to prevent your activities from being tracked is to use a safe computer.
A safe computer is one that your abuser does not have access to. For example, you can use a computer at a public library, internet café, community technology center, or a trusted friend’s house.
You may want to clear your browser’s history. Click here to learn how to clear your tracks. If your computer has spyware, this method will not prevent your activities from being monitored.
Sometimes, clearing your browser’s history can alert an abusive person that you are “hiding something.” If you want to browse the internet privately, click on the links below to learn how:
Tip #4: Stop Telephone Harassment
We do everything with our phones: look for directions, text, check Instagram–sometimes we even make phone calls. Our phones are with us at all times, and when somebody is harassing you by constantly calling or sending text messages it can feel like you are never safe. The following steps will help you protect yourself.
Step 1: Research your options.
There are several ways to respond to telephone harassment, including: blocking the number, telling your phone company, changing your number, or calling the police. We will discuss the pros and cons of each option below.
Option 1: Block the number.
Pros: This is probably the easiest option. Many cell phones allow users to block numbers. You can also call your phone company and ask them to block the number. It is usually free if somebody is harassing you.
Cons: Blocking the number is the easiest solution, but may not be the best option. A person can still call you from another person’s phone, another number on their phone (Skype, Google Voice, etc.), or call as a restricted number (dialing *67).
Option 2: Tell your phone company.
Your phone company may be able to help you protect yourself.
Pros: Your phone company can block numbers and prohibit calls from private or restricted numbers. Your phone company can also monitor the number of times that a person is calling you. This can be helpful if you later want to prove in court that a person was harassing you.
Cons: A person may still be able to use someone else’s phone to contact you. The phone company can help you gather evidence and protect you from the calls by making it more difficult to call you, but the phone company cannot punish the person.
Option 3: Change your number.
Pros: Changing your number may be a great way to keep somebody from contacting you. If the person does not have your number, they cannot harass you on your phone. Many phone companies will allow individuals to change their number free of charge if you are a survivor of domestic violence.
Cons: Most people have the same number for a long time. Getting your new number to all the people in your life can be difficult. Protecting the new number from the abusive person can also be difficult when you have mutual friends or family members. More importantly, changing your number may be dangerous. If a person is harassing you by phone, changing your number may lead them to come and find you. This is particularly important if you are in/leaving an abusive relationship. Although harassing calls and texts are a big problem, sometimes it is safer to know what the person is thinking and planning. Speak with a professional domestic violence advocate before changing your number if you think that changing your number may increase the risk.
Option 4: Call the police or get an order of protection.
Harassing calls and text messages are not just annoying, they are illegal. In New York, it is “aggravated harassment” to call or text in order to annoy, threaten, harass, or alarm you. You may be able to get an order of protection from Criminal or Family Court.
Pros: Getting an order of protection from Family or Criminal Court allows you to take control of the situation and may help protect you from further harassment. Without an order of protection, calling the police is the only option that may lead to the person being punished for harassing you.
Cons: If you call the police, the person will most likely be arrested. This may be helpful in many situations, but in some cases the person may increase the stalking behavior and place you at further risk. Any person who is getting harassed can call the police and ask for the harasser to get arrested and request an order of protection from Criminal Court. In order to get an order of protection from Family Court you need to show that you have or had an “intimate relationship” with the person who is harassing you. For more information about Family Court orders of protection, click here.
Finally, here are some general tips to keep you safe on the web.
Abusers often behave in controlling ways and want to monitor what you’re doing.
A person doesn’t have to be a computer programmer to track computer activities. All the actions on your computer can be tracked. There are lots of ways that computers record everything you do on them.
Email is not a safe or confidential form of communication.
Take precautions to reduce your risk.
Don’t share confidential or private information through instant message or email.
Create a new email account (don’t delete the old one because it might raise suspicions), and ask your friends and family not to share your new email address.
Don’t register your personal information (such as your real address or phone number) when you sign up for web email accounts like Gmail or Yahoo!.
Even the steps outlined here may not protect your internet privacy from an abuser. So what’s the most effective form of protection?
Use a computer the abusive person doesn’t have access to!