Keeping your privacy on the internet is a difficult task, and more difficult when you're worried about somebody else who could be snooping in your records. Below are some options to consider for everybody to use to minimize their digital footprint, but specifically for victim-survivors.
There are a number of recommendations in this article, please find the ones appropriate for your situation.
Technology has improved exponentially every year, it is difficult learning new ways of keeping yourself safe and private.
Consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone and keep it in a safe place for private calls. Use a unique password on your phone and change that password regularly.
Know Your History
You can help keep yourself safe by deleting important phone call history and/or threads of text. You can save a copy of your communication details somewhere safe either a physical notebook or a password/pin-protected app.
Please remember that your cellular carrier (T-Mobile, AT&T, Cricket*) also has access to the numbers and messages that you have called or texted. Those numbers and messages can be requested or seen by any members on your account.
Monitoring software might be installed on a shared plan phone, or child protectant software might be installed to record all communications and a notification history of apps installed and removed. One way to avoid that is to purchase a less technical phone, such as a ‘flip’ phone. These are often referred to as a burner phone.
Texting is fast and fairly simple. Keep safety in mind when using your smartphone. Many smartphones store the history of text messages; it might be important to delete these communications. Deleting the call history might be beneficial, but please remember that your cellular provider and any users on the account will have access to all history.
There are a few methods to help shield you from text and call history such as virtual numbers and/or instant messaging apps. Delete important threads of text, saving the details somewhere safe, either a notebook or a password protected app.
Signal and Silence
When texting, End-to-End Encryption is the best. Texting apps such as Signal or it’s spin-off, Silence are password locked and encrypted.
Signal is linked to your cell phone number as it travels through secure SMS data channels from your cell phone provider. Secret chats with or without self-destruct are options that allow for a more private conversation. Signal is tied to your cellular number and might alert your contacts that your mobile number joined the Signal app.
Silence travels through a secure internet connection, shielding your number.
Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging and voice-over IP (VoIP) service. This Instant messaging software is equipped with safety and security.
Wire is a secure communication and collaboration app. It uses end-to-end encryption and works just like Whatsapp/KiK. Wire uses Usernames and Passwords to log in. Your phone number is not tied to Wire and does not leave any history on your cellular account. When signing up, create your Username with an email address that no one else has access to.
Both Wire and Telegram are free privacy-founded apps. Both use end-to-end encryption.
Alternate phone numbers allow you to dial or call without using the cellular service provider. A virtual phone number will also allow you to screen calls and make calls/send texts from the secondary number.
Google Voice can give you a second number but all messages can be accessed through your Google account. Signing in to your Gmail account will also show your Google Voice activities. Remember to sign out of devices when you’re not using them, otherwise, the next person to use the device can have access to your information.
TextNow is another virtual number app. TextNow is password/pin protected. Any calls and messages will be stored within the app. Please remember installing and uninstalling apps can be monitored by users on your cellular account.
Spyware technology has improved right along with other technology. A way to avoid spyware is to purchase a phone that is not a smartphone. Sometimes just opting for an older phone with prepaid minutes might be a cost-effective way for you to avoid spyware. If your finances are monitored, purchasing the top-up card for more minutes can look like a normal transaction for your phone. Create a plan to purchase prepaid minute cards, or have trusted allies purchase them. This allows you to avoid transactions showing up in your statements.
A subscriber identification module (SIM) card carrying provider like T-Mobile, AT&T or Cricket* can be another option. You can purchase a prepaid SIM card, and swap it with your current sim card prior to making any calls.
Some cell phone manufacturers (OnePlus, Samsung) have phones equipped with dual SIM card slots. Same phone, but second SIM card slot for a second number, and the history of calls and texts will follow the SIM card. Please mark and hide appropriately. Keep in mind a spare SIM card is smaller and easier to hide than a second phone, but faster to lose.
There is a lot of different web browsers out there, and they're all made by different organizations, who have different levels of interest in your own privacy and anonymity. The most popular browser, Chrome, is made by Google. By default, Chrome logs all browser activity to a central database which can be searched, filtered, mined and sold. Somebody with the password to your Google account could log in and see every website you've visited and when. For this reason, we do not recommend using Google Chrome when visiting any sensitive websites.
In contrast, Brave is a web browser which uses the same Chromium engine, but was created with privacy as its focus. Brave will block ads and website trackers by default, and runs without sending reports of which websites you visit.
BraveUsing the Brave browser, particularly when visiting any site which could be sensitive could be a safe option. Brave's antitracking software, combined with its own policy of keeping limited logs on which sites you vist means that switching to this browser would probably be the most effective first step you can take to better online privacy.
Firefox and Vivaldi are two other privacy-focused browsers you could try.
All browsers will keep a local browser history of sites that you've visited. If there are other people in your life with access to your computer who you don't want to see your browser history, you can clear it on command, though the process changes depending on which browser you use. See the list below for more information.
- How to clear your history in Chrome
- How to clear your history in Safari
- How to clear your history in Brave
- How to clear your history in Firefox
- How to clear your history in Vivaldi
- How to clear your history in Edge
Again, the process will be different for different browsers, but usually there will be History option inside of settings. From there, you can delete all your browsing history, or only a period of time (like the last hour).
Most browsers will have a "private" or "incognito" mode. How this mode works will vary from browser to browser, but the basic feature is that the browser will forget what happened in a private session the moment you close the window. So, to prevent a website from showing up in your history in the first place, start out in a private session. Do whatever you like, and then when your finished, close the window and your session will be forgotten in every browser. Of course, this will be slightly different in each browser, so here's a list:
- How to use Incognito Mode in Chrome
- How to use Private Browsing in Sarari
- How to use Private with Tor in Brave
- How to use Private Window in Firefox
- How to use Private Windows in Vivaldi
Google ActivityIf you're logged in to Google while performing a search, that search request will be logged to your account. This includes other Google properties like YouTube, Waze and Nest. If another person had access to your Google account, they could search through your history and see what you were looking for, what you were doing, and when.
However, that same interface can be used to delete parts of your activity.
Perform A Google Privacy Checkup
If you have a Google account, visit Google Privacy Checkup and see what data is being stored and for how long. From there, you can also go to My Google Activity and delete specific items.
Prevent Access To Your Google Account
Of course, the most important step is to make sure that nobody else has access to your Google. Logging into Chrome is the biggest challenge here, as it means anyone who has access to your computer also has access to your Google account, which you do not want. sign out of Chrome and use a different browser or incognito mode when possible.
Similar to Google, Facebook will try to keep a record of everything you do online. If there are others in your life who could use that information against you, it's best to avoid Facebook's collection efforts. Crucially, you should be aware this extends to sites outside of Facebook, as they have ways to track you elsewhere.
If you have a Facebook account, only share information which you would want the whole world to know. When not actively using Facebook, log out of the website. Further, use Disconnect when possible to prevent being tracked by Facebook while on other sites.
Passwords are a complicated issue, but in this article, we'll explore it specifically as it relates to someone's vulnerability to abusive partners.
In brief nobody should know any of your passwords, and you should avoid sharing accounts whenever possible. If this isn't possible in every case, try to make it true for the most important accounts, such as sites that track your physical location, online activity, financial information, and search history. Try to think about what websites expose the most information about you, and make sure those accounts are hard for anybody else to log into.
If Possible, Use a Password Manager
A password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass or Dashlane are designed to make all your passwords distinct and impossible to guess. They take some effort (and a bit of money) to set up, but the time and money spent are often worth it.
Lock Your Computer, Phone and Other Devices
Possibly the most important password you have is the one that lets you into your computer and phone. Make that one hard to guess. Also, make sure your device will go into a locked state if it's inactive for a while.
Beware Saved Passwords in the Browser
Some browers will offer to save your passwords for you. This convenience can be problematic if others can use these saved passwords to log in as you. If others have access to your devices, be aware of this vulnerability.
Password Reset Questions Could Be Guessed
Sometimes, when creating an account, a website will ask you a question such as "Where did you go to High School?" That question can then be used to reset your password. This is a problem, because it means anyone who knows where you went to high school basically has your password. Where possible, either avoid password questions entirely, or make them something only you'd know the answer to, like that your first car was Elephant or that you attended Lindsay Lohan High School. Whatever you choose, make it something that only you would know.
Location Data and Tracking
Finally is the matter of Location Data, which your phone is constantly saving. If any of that data could be used against you, you can manage that data, which is different depending on your phone.
If you use a Google Android phone, visit your Location Controls. You can turn your location history off, as well as delete any specific location history data which Google is aware of.
If you use an Apple iPhone, you can adjust the location history on your device itself by following this guide. Bear in mind that Google location history is separate, so you'll want to adjust Google's Location Controls separately.
Finally, by default, every photo you take with your phone will have what's called EXIF data saved into the photo itself. This data will include when and where this photo was taken. If that image is uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. - people who see the photo can also see where and when that photo was taken.
To prevent this from happening, see the specific instructions for your phone:
However, if you have a photo that's already been taken, you can remove the EXIF data following this guide
This is a lot to consider and it's quite likely you may not be able to do all these steps. Try to prevent people you do not completely trust from touching your devices. If that's not possible right now, do any and all sensitive activity from a protected environment, like a shielded browser or, at the very minimum, a private window.
It is also important to think about the pros and cons of any action. A strategy may work for some survivors but not others. Each survivor is an expert on their relationship and it is important to choose what will work for them and keep them safe. To talk through options with an advocate, call 1-844-7NATIVE or click on the chat now icon on this page. Advocates are available 24/7.