Know the Laws:
UPDATED April 26, 2011
Please note that computer use can be monitored by an abuser and there are ways for an abuser to access your email and to find out what sites you have visited on the Internet. It is impossible to completely clear all data related to your computer activity.
If you are in danger, please use a computer that the abuser cannot access (such as a public terminal at a library, community center, or domestic violence organization), and call your local domestic violence organization and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for help. For a list of local and national resources see our State and Local Programs page and enter your state in the drop-down menu.
Maybe. There are a number of ways the abuser could have access to your email account:
If you believe that the abuse 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:
If the abuser has access to your email account or computer, s/he may be able to read the emails you send and receive, even if you delete them.
Therefore, to send and receive emails that you do not want others to see, you may want to set up an alternate email account that the abuser doesn't know about. There are a number of free, Web-based e-mail services that you can use. When signing up for a new email account, do not use any of your real identifying information if you wish to remain private and anonymous. Here is a list of a few free, Web-based email programs:
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: email@example.com.
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 might 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.
You should print and save any threatening or harassing email messages the abuser sends you, as they may be used as evidence of his/her 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 s/he sends, s/he may be committing a crime, such as stalking or harassment. You can report any threatening or harassing emails to the police. For more information on online harassment, please see our Stalking/Cyberstalking page. To read the definitions of any harassment or cyberstalking crimes in your state, you can go to our Crimes page and enter your state in the drop-down menu.
Yes. There are a number of different ways that the abuser can tell what websites you have visited:
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 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. 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.
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:
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 on-line 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 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 indentifying information you are posting on any of your social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, 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 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.* Read step-by-step instructions on how to disable geotagging on your phone.
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.
* Web Photos That Reveal Secrets, Like Where You Live, New York Times, Aug. 11, 2010
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.