Can the abuser see what websites I have visited? Is there spyware on my computer?
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.).
- 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. To read more information about spyware, such as how to detect it, and what to do about it, you can read Who's Spying on Your Computer? which was written by the National Network to End Domestic Violence's Safety Net Project. 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, s/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 a domestic violence organization in your area, a local library, a community center, a friend's house, or another computer that you know is not monitored.
If you are concerned for your safety, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224.
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 (for example: Flickr, Facebook, an old blog, etc.) and go through and change your privacy settings or delete personal information that you do not want on the Internet. 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. For additional information about this please read our page on Safety with Social Media.
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.
Can I permanently delete my Facebook profile?
Yes - but this cannot be done by just “deactivating” your account. When you deactivate your account, your entire profile (photos, interests, friends, etc.) are still saved and may still be found during an Internet search. To delete your entire profile permanently:
- Go to this address: http://www.facebook.com/help/delete_account?show_form=delete_account
- Click “Submit” and follow the instructions
- Your account will be deactivated for two weeks. If you don’t log in during that time, your profile will be deleted permanently.*
* This information was adapted from the Facebook Help Center question “How do I permanently delete my account?”
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 s/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. If you are particularly concerned about the abuser accessing your personal information through the Internet, you might consider asking a friend or family member to purchase items for you online using his/her name and address.
If asked by a website if they can share your information with “associates of the site” or “selected partners,” say “No.” If you agree to let them 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, Instagram, or blogs. Please read Safety with Social Media. 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 s/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 your general or exact location.
With this feature, many applications may collect and share your location information. However, many smartphones give you the option of managing your location sharing under the “settings.” You can pick and choose which applications may access your location or you can opt to turn off the location setting altogether. Minimizing the location access can also help increase the battery life on your phone. If your phone doesn’t offer specific location-sharing settings, choose carefully when downloading new apps so you’re not sharing your location unknowingly.
To find instructions on disabling geotagging, you can search for “disable geotagging” along with the name of the type of electronic device you have in your Internet search engine.
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 might 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.