Protecting yourself – Internet safety
If you are dealing with a partner or ex-partner who at any time has:
- monitored your phone calls
- stopped you from visiting with your friends or family
- had family and friends keep tabs on you
- become extremely jealous when you've seemed interested in other people
- limited your access to the car and/or tracked the car mileage
- controlled the family money
- threatened your safety and/or the safety of the kids
- hurt or threatened to hurt your pet
- physically hurt you and/or the kids
or if you are being stalked or experiencing harassment in a workplace in which computers are often used, you need to read the following information very carefully.
The Internet can be a great place to get information. However, your activities on the Internet can be tracked quite easily. If someone wants to control you or wants to find out what you are doing, there are many ways they can gather this information.
There are also ways you can protect yourself as you use the Internet. The following suggestions can help you cover your tracks as you surf the web, use chats or send email. However, remember that NONE of these can protect you COMPLETELY.
Use a Safe(r) Computer
When you surf the web or send email, use a computer your abuser or his friends, colleagues and family or even your kids will not have access to.
Local libraries, community centres and some women's shelters and rape crisis centers have computers available for free public use of the Internet. Use a friend's computer or one at work (unless this is where you are experiencing abuse and harassment). If you have no choice but to use your abuser's computer, a computer you share, or a computer that he has set up for you, see below for some ways to Cover Your Tracks.
After using a computer in a public place, be sure to clear your Internet history to give yourself a little privacy. Be aware that unless the computer terminal is in a secluded location, others may see what appears on the computer screen.
Covering your tracks
The Assaulted Women's Helpline provides detailed information about hiding your internet tracks. You can find this information here. It is critical that you do this if your abuser has access to the computer you use.
Exercise Email Caution
A note about email: There are two ways to access email. One is through a "web-based" email program. This means you check your email through a website and need a password every time you open your email. There are free options for web-email: Hotmail.com and Yahoo.com are two examples. The other way to access email is through a program that's located on your computer. This will require a password only to open email, not to send it. MicroSoft Outlook and Eudora are examples. If you are living with an abuser and can keep your password secret, it's safer to use a web-based email program.
Never send email containing confidential information or information that may threaten your safety if your abuser reads it.
Emails sent through programs that are not web-based get stored in your computer. There are ways you can delete them off your computer but an abuser can install software that will record everything you type (your "keystrokes") so even web-based email is not safe. Even if you are using a computer that your abuser has no access to, emails are stored by your "service provider" or "ISP" (the service that connects your computer to the Internet) or by the email service (Hotmail or Yahoo). This information can be subpoenaed by lawyers or police.
Emails can also be accidently sent to the wrong person, redirected (your receiver can send them on to someone else), or copied. Sometimes emails will simply not reach their destination, due to technical problems.
Take care with passwords. If you share a computer with your abuser or he may have access to it, always chose a password for your email account that he will not be able to guess (this may be the only time he remembers your date of birth). Email programs that are set up on your computer (as opposed to web-based email like Hotmail or Yahoo), do not require a password when a person sends out an email. Your abuser may use this technical flaw to collect information about you from unsuspecting friends or relatives or other advocates that you have sent email to. He may send email to these people and pretend that he is you and ask recipients to send the response to another email address.
Using the Web for Help
If you consider contacting an organization for help through email, find out what their policies are on maintaining your confidentiality. Please tell us, or any organization you contact, if you feel that your Internet activities may be monitored by your abuser. It may be safer to phone an organization rather than send an email.