Communication and Internet Safety Tips
Communication Safety Overview
Communication via telephone or Internet is not necessarily confidential. You may be leaving behind information that can give your abuser clues about who you are contacting or what types of information you are searching for when you browse the Web, send e-mail or instant messages, or use your telephone. There are many tricks for decreasing your risk, but it is very difficult to clear or hide all of the information that is left behind.
How to Ensure Private Communications
The information below can assist you in protecting the confidentiality of your communications, but it is not an exhaustive list of preventative measures and does not guarantee the safety of all of your communications.
Because an abuser could install monitoring software that secretly records what programs you run, what files you access, and what you type, the best way to ensure private communications is to utilize technologies that your abuser is not able to access. Examples include:
- Computer at your workplace
- Computer at a public library
- Computer at your local domestic violence shelter
- Pay phone
- Friend's cell phone
- Cell phone obtained from a domestic violence program
E-Mail Account Access
If an abuser can access your e-mail account, he or she will be able to read any sent or received e-mail that you have not deleted. You should consider having more than one e-mail account so that you have an alternative if your abuser gains access to your account or forces you to terminate your account.
Web-Based Email Programs
Utilize a Web-based e-mail service for correspondence that you wish to remain private. There are many free services such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. These Web-based e-mail services can be used from any computer that has Internet access and will not store information on that computer. Web-based e-mail accounts are safer than utilizing local programs such as Outlook Express, Eudora, or Thunderbird that store sent and received e-mails on your computer.
When setting up your Web-based e-mail account, do not use identifiable information in your e-mail address and ask your close friends and family to not share your new address. Don't select a username that includes your name and don't register personal information such as your real address or phone number when you sign up for your Web-based e-mail account.
If You Use a Local E-mail Program
If you do use a local e-mail program, there are a number of ways to minimize your risk:
- Choose a password that would be difficult for anyone else to guess.
- Do not share your password with anyone.
- When you send e-mail that you wish to remain private, delete it from the Sent folder and delete it from your Trash folder or Deleted Items folder.
- Save threatening or haraasing e-mails that are recieved from an abuser as evidence of abuse. You may also wish to print and hide these messages.
- Do not check any defaults that allow the computer to remember information. Examples include "Remember my Username" or "Remember my Password."
It is very difficult to completely cover your tracks when browsing the Web. Many traces of information about your activities on the Internet are stored on your computer. The best option is to use a safer computer as suggested above under How to Ensure Private Communications.
If an abuser knows how to read the history or cache (automatically saved Web pages and graphics) from your Web browser, he or she will be able to view recent sites that you have visited on the Internet.
To maintain your privacy, you should clear your history and empty your browser cache after every session of Web browsing. The method for doing so varies depending upon your browser and version. Several popular browsers are listed below. If your browser is not listed, find the Help menu in your browser and search for "cache" and "history" for information on clearing these items.
Microsoft Internet Explorer:
To clear your browsing history in Internet Explorer, select Tools, then Delete Browsing History. Click the button for Delete All. Select the check box for "Also delete files and settings stored by add-ons" and click Yes.
To clear your browsing history in Mozilla Firefox, select Tools, then Clear Private Data.
Alternatively, you can set a default preference that will automatically clear private data when you close the Firefox browser. On a Mac, select Firefox, then Preferences. Under the privacy tab, select the check box for "Always clear my private data when I close Firefox" under the Private Data subhead. On a Windows machine, select Tools, then Options. Under the privacy tab, select the check box for "Always clear my private data when I close Firefox" under the Private Data subhead.
Altering Your History and Cache Habits
Be careful when altering your Internet use habits. If you are being monitored by your abuser, suddenly deleting your history and clearing your cache may arouse suspicion and become dangerous. Either switch to a safer computer as suggested above under How to Ensure Private Communications, or refill your history list by visiting other sites that you visit frequently before exiting your browser.
Additionally, if you do switch to a safer computer, you may want to continue to use the monitored computer for normal browsing so as to not arouse suspicion. Use the safer computer for seeking assistance, job hunting, apartment seeking or researching an escape plan.
and Social Networking Sites
To protect yourself when posting to forums, newsgroups, or social networking sites, you should not use recognizable personal information in your screen name or postings such as:
- Your name, location, or pet's name
- Your city or town
- Places (concerts, events, museums, shows) that you have been
Selecting a strong password and keeping it secure is one of the best ways to protect your information. Some password tips include:
- Do not automatically "Store" passwords or add passwords to the "Keychain" on a Mac. This makes it very easy for an abuser to access your accounts.
- Select passwords that are difficult to guess. Do not use your name, birthdate, street address, or pet's names in your password.
- Use passwords that include a mix of numbers, letters, and other characters (!, #, *) to make them more difficult to guess. Use at least six characters.
- Change your password frequently.
- Do not write down your passwords.
If you have sensitive digital files that you wish to remain confidential, consider storing them online. Services such as Google Docs, iBackup, Xdrive, and box, allow you to store files on the Internet and access them from any computer.
It's easy to forget that your telephone may not be private. The following tips can help protect your privacy:
- Traditional corded phones are less prone to interception than cordless phones or cell phones.
- Be aware that cell phones have Global Positioning Systems (GPS) location tracking features that an abuser could use to find out where you have been.
- Contact one of the local domestic violence programs for information about free cell phone donation programs.