The web gathers vast amounts of personal information that we willfully share online — our location, interests, purchases, friends, current activities, etc. Anyone tracking this information not only knows what we say, but in what location we say it, and to whom. This adds up to a large dossier of information on nearly every Internet user.
One issue that persists in a web-based world is online stalking (also referred to by some organizations as “cyber stalking”). An online stalker can easily hide behind Internet anonymity, or worse, behind someone else’s identity. Below is a quick guide to understanding online stalking and how to best prevent it from happening to you.
1. Get the Facts
The real key to the prevention of online stalking is remembering that every post you put on a social network could potentially be public. Sophisticated search engines and malicious data-stealing Trojans can find and share any information about you, even on the most trusted and secure social networks. Compromised data could potentially be used by criminals to harass you, harm you personally, or steal your identity.
The best thing to do is to stay informed about the latest threats and which popular sites may have been recently hacked. Some important resources with quality information include:
- The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Computers and Internet Privacy
2. Be Cautious
Whether you want to protect information on your Facebook profile or in your Gmail account, there is security software that can help you do it. For example, you can install software that will warn you if any sensitive words or numbers (like phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, passwords, etc.) are entered onto a web page. You should also be sure your private and financial data is only entered into websites that have proof of their security from companies like TRUSTe or VeriSign.
Because so much of our day-to-day communication is done on social networks (sharing on Facebook, job hunting on Craigslist), it may not always be clear when we encounter the issue of online stalking. You may think you’re overreacting, but if you’re feeling intimidated or insecure about a situation and you’re not sure what to do, here are some sources that may help you determine if you’re being stalked.
- State Cyberstalking Laws
3. Don’t Respond, Just Report
Anyone who is being stalked or harassed online should not respond to the instigator. They should instead either report it to the online community where it’s happening (by flagging on social networks, reporting abusive links, etc.), or to other sites such as Cyber911 Emergency from Wired Safety, and Cyberstalking from The National Center for Victims of Crime. Keep a record of the communications, and contact authorities if it becomes threatening in any way. People who are under the age of 18 should also alert their parents or an adult they trust to help them properly track the communications and contact authorities as appropriate. Like bullying and harassment, stalking cannot be stopped by any technology. However, there are several ways to keep track of communications through IM, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The silver lining is that online stalking is probably easier to prosecute than physical stalking because the communications are usually traceable in some way.
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