How to Prevent Stalkers by Removing Personal Information from the Web
Anyone who has been a victim of stalking will tell you just how scary it can be. It can cause long-term psychological damage through prolonged and unmitigated fear and emotional distress. Many people tend to think of stalking as someone watching another person through a window or showing up unexpectedly wherever that person goes. However, much of the stalking that takes place today happens without the stalker ever leaving their home.
Unfortunately, stalkers are regularly using the internet to prey upon their victims. They use social media, email, and other web mediums to gather information about an individual along with various means of accessing them online and/or in person. Stalkers then use this information to call, email, follow, text, make posts, track, and otherwise engage in unsolicited pursuit of someone who has no interest in such contact or communication. Thankfully, there are ways to limit vulnerability to stalking by removing personal information from the web.
What Is Stalking?
Stalking is defined as any “repeated and unwanted contact” with someone that makes them feel unsafe. This would include uninvited and unprompted phone calls, messages, and in-person interactions, as well as fear or manipulation tactics such as implied threat or coercion.
Anyone can become a victim of stalking by a stranger or even a known person or loved one. Unfortunately, if not addressed, stalking tends to escalate which can lead to violence. This can be through overt threats to someone’s safety with an indication of direct harm or continued and persistent harassment through unwelcome contact.
Cyberstalking occurs when stalkers use technology to stalk an individual. This can be through social media, email, or other forms of web communication. Stalking in any form is a crime, however it often goes unreported. In addition, it can be difficult to escape from or eliminate stalking behavior once it begins. Therefore, the best measure of defense is to prevent any circumstances that make you vulnerable to a stalker.
Risk of Personal Information on the Web
Nearly every transaction or interaction with the internet features some presence of personally identifiable information (PII). PII is any form of data that leads to the identification of an individual. This includes name, address, phone number, birthdate, social security number, photographs, and so on. Any PII that is entered or provided online puts that person at risk of victimization through identity theft, fraud, and both physical stalking and cyberstalking.
When it comes to stalkers, it’s frighteningly easy for them to find one bit of PII on an individual’s social media or other internet profile and use it to engage in stalking behavior. Online data as simple as a name or phone number can lead to an individual’s entire web footprint, including their photos, physical address, place of employment, and even information about family members. This puts the safety of online participants at great risk for misuse of personal information as well as criminal victimization.
The amount of information about an individual that can be discovered through online PII is serious and very concerning. It can open an individual up to physical and cyber harassment that results in long-term negative consequences when it comes to a sense of well-being. In addition, victims of physical and/or cyberstalking often lose traction in their careers and stability in their personal relationships. Cyberstalkers in particular have been known to hack accounts, commit libel and/or slander, and use technology to track both online activity and physical whereabouts. Any personal information that is shared on the web is a potential tool for stalkers, often with dangerous and devastating results for their victims.
Prevent Stalkers by Removing PII from the Internet
Victims of stalking generally must take defensive and protective measures even if they report the crime. This may involve changing phone numbers, email addresses, daily patterns and schedules, and even locks on doors in the home. In addition to the stress of unwanted and repeated contact by another person, stalking victims often have to take drastic personal measures to defend themselves.
Rather than opening yourself to the vulnerability of stalking or trying to rectify the situation if it happens, it’s best to prevent the presence of stalkers in your life as much as possible. One way to prevent suffering this crime is to remove your PII from the internet. Removing every trace of PII online is unrealistic and nearly impossible. However, there are ways to remove enough personal data so that it significantly lowers your risk of being stalked by someone online and in person.
Here are some steps you can take to remove personally identifiable information from the web:
- Deactivate and/or delete all social media accounts
- Uninstall and/or delete any non-essential apps from all electronic devices
- Delete non-essential online accounts
- Utilize online removal tools offered by some search engines
- Conduct personal search for websites containing PII and delete it or request it be removed by site managers
These steps may seem drastic in a sense and certainly require much effort and attention to detail. Theoretically, internet users should be able to interact online without the worry of being stalked—either on the web or in person. Unfortunately, because personally identifiable information is so intertwined with internet use, it’s difficult to maintain an open online presence without putting your privacy and personal data in jeopardy.
Therefore, the benefit of removing PII from the internet outweighs the risk of becoming vulnerable to a stalker or other cybercrimes. Preventive actions such as removing personal data online can limit the amount and type of information others could use against you. Regardless of how a stalker has accessed or communicated with their victim, it’s important to report the situation immediately before it gets worse.
Of course, removing PII from the web is a preventive measure and does not guarantee that you won’t experience stalking behavior. However, it greatly reduces the risk of a stalker gaining access to your personal information for the purpose of creating fear, distress, or harm. Removing as much of your online PII as possible may be enough to deter a potential stalker from pursuing such criminal actions.