the smart girl`s guide to privacy

the smart girl`s guide to privacy
S h e lv e in : C o m p u t e r s / G e n eral
In The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, award-winning author and
investigative journalist Violet Blue shows you how women are targeted
online and how to keep yourself safe. Blue’s practical, user-friendly
advice will teach you how to:
• • • • • • Delete personal content from websites
Use website and browser privacy controls effectively
Recover from and prevent identity theft
Figure out where the law protects you—and where it doesn’t
Set up safe online profiles
Remove yourself from people-finder websites
Violet Blue is an investigative tech reporter for ZDNet, CNET, Engadget, and CBS News,
and an award-winning sex writer and columnist. She is also a member of the Internet
Press Guild and an advisor for Without My Consent. She currently maintains a sexuality
blog at and can be found on Twitter, @violetblue.
$17.95 ($20.95 CDN)
violet blue
Even if your privacy has already been compromised, don’t panic.
It’s not too late to take control. Let The Smart Girl’s Guide to
Privacy help you cut through the confusion and start protecting your
online life.
the smart girl’s guide to privacy
The whirlwind of social media, online dating, and mobile apps can
make life a dream—or a nightmare. For every trustworthy website,
there are countless jerks, bullies, and scam artists who want to harvest
your personal information for their own purposes. But you can fight
back, right now.
violet blue
the smart
girl’s guide
to privacy
practical tips for staying safe online
the smart
girl’s guide
to privacy
the smart
girl’s guide
to privacy
practical tips for
staying safe online
violet blue
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. Copyright © 2015 by Violet Blue.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information
storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and
the publisher.
First printing
19 18 17 16 15 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
ISBN-10: 1-59327-648-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-59327-648-5
Publisher: William Pollock
Production Editor: Laurel Chun
Cover and Interior Design: Beth Middleworth
Developmental Editors: William Pollock and Jennifer Griffith-Delgado
Compositor: Laurel Chun
Proofreader: Lisa Devoto Farrell
Indexer: BIM Indexing & Proofreading Services
For information on distribution, translations, or bulk sales,
please contact No Starch Press, Inc. directly:
No Starch Press, Inc.
245 8th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
phone: 415.863.9900; [email protected]
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blue, Violet.
The smart girl’s guide to privacy : practical tips for staying safe online / by Violet Blue.
pages cm
Summary: “Discusses how to protect personal information from online privacy violations. Covers how to
set and store secure passwords, monitor online visibility, safely use social media and apps, and create online
profiles. Contains emergency instructions for those who have been hacked or had their identity, phone, or
laptop stolen”-- Provided by publisher.
ISBN 978-1-59327-648-5 -- ISBN 1-59327-648-6
1. Computer crimes--Prevention. 2. Internet--Security measures. 3. Internet and women. 4. Internet-Safety measures. 5. Privacy, Right of. I. Title.
HV6773.B56 2015
No Starch Press and the No Starch Press logo are registered trademarks of No Starch Press,
Inc. Other product and company names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their
respective owners. Rather than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a trademarked name, we are using the names only in an editorial fashion and to the benefit of the
trademark owner, with no intention of infringement of the trademark.
The information in this book is distributed on an “As Is” basis, without warranty. While every
precaution has been taken in the preparation of this work, neither the author nor No Starch
Press, Inc. shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage
caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in it.
brief contents
chapter 1: get smart.................................................................1
chapter 2: but it’s just my phone number............................... 17
chapter 3: you got hacked.......................................................31
chapter 4: female trouble........................................................49
chapter 5: identity theft..........................................................69
chapter 6: how to share..........................................................81
chapter 7: people-search websites..........................................95
chapter 8: dating and sexytime............................................103
chapter 9: ninja tricks.......................................................... 119
chapter 10: I hate passwords................................................133
resources............................................................................... 141
contents in detail
get smart
Take the Online Privacy Test..................................................4
Eight Privacy Tips to Use Right Now......................................4
Targets and Nontargets...........................................................6
Losing Your Privacy.................................................................8
Ways You Can Lose Your Privacy...................................9
Protect Yourself Right Now...................................................11
Tape Over Your Webcam...............................................11
Lock Your Phone, Computer, and Tablet......................12
Do a Privacy Check-Up..................................................13
Don’t Email Your ID......................................................13
Use a Password Manager and
Install an Antitheft App...........................................14
Be the Firewall.......................................................................14
but it’s just my phone number
You Control What You Share................................................. 17
Private Spaces and Activities................................................18
Lock Down Your Personally Identifying Information...........21
Red Alert List................................................................22
Yellow Alert List............................................................23
Green List......................................................................24
Information-Sharing Guidelines...................................25
He Said, She Said...................................................................26
Worst-Case Scenario..............................................................28
viii contents in detail
you got hacked
One Compromised Account to Rule Them All.......................32
What Honan Did Wrong.........................................................33
Hack-Proof Your Life..............................................................34
Make Your Address Hard to Find.................................34
Don’t Link Major Accounts............................................34
Don’t Use One Service for Everything..........................35
Back Up Your Everything:
Your Contacts, Your Files, Your Photos...................35
Encrypt Your Computer’s Hard Drive..........................36
What to Do When You’ve Been Attacked..............................36
Recover Your Accounts and Data..................................38
When a Service Gets Hacked........................................40
If Your Financial Information May Have Been
Exposed in a Data Breach........................................41
How to Change Your Email Address.....................................43
Choose a New Home......................................................44
Set Up Forwarding........................................................45
Move In..........................................................................46
Update Your Accounts...................................................47
Tell Everyone.................................................................47
female trouble
Recovering from Harassment................................................50
When Will It Stop?.........................................................53
Staying Strong...............................................................54
Fighting Back.........................................................................56
Navigating the Legal System........................................56
Getting a Restraining Order.........................................58
Getting Your Private Photos Offline.....................................59
Doing It Yourself............................................................60
If You’re a Minor............................................................63
Outsourcing the Work....................................................64
Preventative Maintenance.....................................................66
contents in detail 5
identity theft
Signs of Identity Theft............................................................70
Run, Don’t Walk.....................................................................72
Place a Fraud Alert.......................................................72
Order Free Credit Reports............................................73
File an Identity Theft Report........................................73
Contact the IRS.............................................................73
Alert Businesses............................................................73
Don’t Let It Happen to You....................................................74
Prevent Identity Theft...................................................74
Avoid Phishing Attacks.................................................75
If Your Phone or Computer Is Stolen............................77
Install an Antitheft Tracking App................................77
Permanently Delete Information
from Your Device......................................................78
how to share
Social Media Checklist...........................................................82
Sharing Only What You Want......................................83
But I Can’t Give Up Facebook (or Instagram,
or Twitter, or FourSquare, or . . .)............................86
Quit Humping My Leg, Facebook..........................................87
Location Information in Photos.....................................89
Be Smart About Checking In........................................89
Controlling What You Share
with Google and Google+..........................................89
Managing Your Google+ Profile....................................90
Locking Down the Privacy Settings
on Your New Phone...................................................91
Safely Disposing of Old Devices.............................................92
x contents in detail
people-search websites
But I’m Not That Interesting.................................................96
The Dangers Lurking in People-Finder Sites........................98
How People-Finder Sites Get Your Information....................99
It Sounds Like There’s Nothing I Can Do,
So Why Do Anything?............................................100
dating and sexytime
Make a Smart Dating Profile..............................................104
Screen Out Scammers and Stalkers....................................106
Make the Internet Wear a Condom.....................................107
Private Time Online: Browsing Privately and
Securing Your Sensitive Information.....................108
Search Engine Creep...................................................109
Cookies......................................................................... 110
Leave No Trace............................................................ 111
Keep Your Sensitive Files Private.............................. 111
Erase Files Completely................................................ 111
Make Your Browser Private........................................112
Do Not Track................................................................ 113
Private Browsing......................................................... 114
How to Tell If Someone Was on Your Computer................. 115
ninja tricks
Ninja Your Credit Cards......................................................120
Ninja Move: Freeze Your Credit..........................................121
Stealth Out Your Mailing Address......................................122
Stealth Out Your Phone Number.........................................123
Ninja Tricks: Encrypt Your Private Communication..........123
Protecting Your Email.................................................124
Keeping Your Chats Private........................................126
Encrypting Your Internet Activity..............................126
contents in detail xi
Ninja Choke Hold: Strong, Easy Privacy Apps....................127
Ninja Your IP Address.........................................................128
Use Tor.........................................................................128
Use a VPN....................................................................129
Get Hard-core: Make a Data Silo........................................130
I hate passwords
How People Steal Passwords................................................134
But I Have to Share My Password.......................................135
Password Fu.........................................................................137
“At one point I thought changing my name might help with
privacy, but that was before the Internet.” —O l i v i a W i l d e
1. get smart
Social media, online dating, photo sharing, mobile apps, and
more can make a modern girl’s social life a dream—or a
nightmare. When you just want to feel connected to friends,
family, and romance, the last things you want to deal with
are potential dangers like identity theft, online stalking,
corporate information sharing, or revenge porn. For many
women, getting control of their online privacy is confusing,
overwhelming, and stressful.
This book is packed with some serious self-defense moves.
It’s designed to help you get organized so you can navigate
the chaotic landscape of online privacy. In these pages you’ll
find a guide to making sure you don’t share too much. You’ll
learn how to look good to potential employers (or potential
2 C h a pt e r 1
dates) and safeguard your privacy from sleazy marketers,
unethical megacorporations, scammers, stalkers, bullshit
artists, and anyone who wants to silence women online. And
it does all this without making you feel judged, paranoid, or
like a total newbie.
Traditionally, women haven’t been taught to stand up for
themselves the way men have—whether online or anyplace
else—but this is changing. Today, women are standing up
to stalkers and being more careful than ever with personal
information. We’re getting fierce, angry, and strategic. We
don’t have time for shame, and the haters are losing. These
are significant signs of much-needed changes in women’s roles,
especially in our role as consumers.
One of the major obstacles we face in protecting ourselves
is that most social media websites are not designed to safeguard people who are targets. While there are a lot of amazing female programmers and powerful women working in the
security and technology sectors, most sites and social sharing
apps are designed by men who don’t take into account that
half the users will experience particular kinds of predatory
behavior. Thus, the rules and structures of these online tools
permit them to be used for evil.
In addition, the tech industry is full of corporate greed and
douchebags and a whole lot of bad security practices. Most
online services, such as bill-paying websites, and mobile apps
are made shoddily and leak private information like there’s no
tomorrow. It’s enough to make you wonder why every person
you know hasn’t had their identity stolen yet.
Privacy can be something you want just to feel safe, or you
may have read horror stories about things happening to other
women (maybe even your friends) and want to make sure that
those things never happen to you. Maybe you’re interested in
being downright badass about your privacy because you’ve had
get smart 3
a bad experience—or maybe you’re dealing with a privacy or
reputation crisis right now.
No matter what brought you to these pages, this book
will give you control and power over something that would
otherwise have the power to hurt you and the people you love.
And if you’re reading this because you’ve lost control, there’s
good news: you’re about to get your power back.
In the first two chapters, you’ll find a lot of suggestions that
will help you define what you want to keep private and what
you’re okay with sharing. Be prepared to take a few missteps
as you get started—there will be a bit of a learning curve—but
know that I’ll give you the basics to keep what matters, like
your home address, from getting into the wrong hands. Once
you nail down your boundaries, determine who puts you at
risk and what the risks are, and identify the bad guys, your
life will feel more like an adventure from a place of freedom
and power than a disaster waiting to happen.
Speaking of disasters, it’s not just provocative or racy photos
that can get stolen and ridiculed (or worse) to hurt you online.
You don’t need to be a flirt to get singled out. For someone
who decides to target you, your presence is enough—if you
don’t protect yourself. When you protect yourself, however,
you actually can post or share sexy pictures of yourself and
stay in control. The key is knowing what to protect, knowing
what sites and apps you can (and can’t) trust, and removing
from view anything that can compromise you.
You can start taking control of your private information
right now. Find out what information is out there about you
by searching for yourself. Searching for yourself might be
daunting, even scary, and it might bring up negative feelings,
but this is where you start getting tough on controlling your
private property. Knowing is always better—and safer—than
not knowing.
4 C h a pt e r 1
Ta k e t h e On l i n e Pr i vac y T e st
The first step to taking control is a privacy check-up. Follow
these instructions now, and don’t panic if you find something
online you didn’t expect:
• Google your name using quotation marks, like “Anna Jones”
(and be sure to check the Images tab).
• Google your phone number.
• Google your home address.
• Google your Social Security number (tax ID).
• Do a Google reverse image search of your most-recently
shared photos.
• Search your own name on Spokeo, USSearch, or Intelius.
Don’t blame yourself for what companies like Facebook,
LinkedIn, Google, online advertising companies, and data
brokers have done to your privacy. And don’t panic if you see
something you didn’t realize was public: what’s online doesn’t
have to stay visible forever. Along with how to prevent a privacy disaster, this book will show you how to fix some of the
worst things you’ll find about yourself online.
Eigh t Pr i vac y T ips to Use Righ t Now
Every three months, do a privacy check-up that includes
searching for your name, phone number, and address, as
well as online accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Google,
and your bank. But you can take some actions immediately
to make yourself safer online and, hopefully, improve what
you see in those check-ups.
1. Use different email addresses for different online accounts.
You can set them up to forward email to the address you
actually check.
get smart 5
2. View your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ profiles as
someone else, and then adjust the privacy settings.
3. Tape over your webcam.
4. Activate the password lock on your phone, laptop, and
5. Never sign in on someone else’s phone, computer, or tablet.
6. Look into getting a free, Internet-based VoIP (Voice over
Internet Protocol) phone number to use for any online
communications. Don’t worry—you can forward it.
7. Consider getting a post office box that you can use in place
of your home address to minimize the risk of identity theft,
stalking, and other dangers.
8. Install two or three antitracking plug-ins and extensions
in your browser, such as AdBlock Plus, Disconnect, Abine’s
Blur, or Ghostery.
If you want to be extra vigilant or if you have known
enemies online, you can also set up a Google Custom Alert
at When you do, you’ll get an
email notification whenever your name, email address, or
phone number is added to Google’s searched sites. Note that
Google Alerts sends you only the newly indexed results for
your search since the last time it checked, not every result
there is. You can set up as many alerts as you like, and enter
multiple words for each search. Try to use specific search
terms so you don’t end up with frustratingly general results.
To search for an exact phrase, put quotes around your words
(like “Anna Jones”), and finish up by selecting the areas you
want Google to cover (News, Blogs, and so on) and how often
you want the results delivered. Once you’re done, bookmark
the Google Alerts page so you can go back and manage your
Alerts or edit them to work better for you.
6 C h a pt e r 1
Ta rge ts a n d Non ta rge ts
Google’s Eric Schmidt said, “If you have something you don’t
want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the
first place.”* Actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher and
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have each said that if you’re not
doing anything “wrong,” then you don’t have anything to worry
about when it comes to losing your privacy. That’s easy—and
profitable—for them to say. They make money on getting you
to give up as many details about your life as they can grab.
Why, exactly, does Ashton Kutcher get to decide that
whatever you’re doing is wrong just because you don’t want
the whole world to know about it? Filthy-rich celebrities are
more able than the rest of us to hide things they consider
private or embarrassing because they can afford to. Wanting
to keep something private doesn’t mean you did anything
wrong, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed for protecting your
privacy. These people are trafficking in beliefs from a bygone
era, like laughably antiquated notions about female hysteria
and women having to choose between a job and a family.
The most important problem with modern privacy discussions is that we aren’t addressing the critical difference
between how men and women perceive privacy—most men
aren’t targets, but most women are. When the agenda of
privacy discussions is set by men like Schmidt, Kutcher, and
Zuckerberg, they sound completely crazy and disconnected
from reality. They don’t understand what we experience every
day as targets. This lack of understanding manifests in these
decision-makers’ attitudes about privacy and safety, as well
as decisions about user experience design and implementation
that put those who bear target status—namely, women—at
even greater risk than those who don’t.
* Eric Schmidt, interview by Maria Bartiromo, CNBC, December 3, 2009, retrieved from http://
get smart 7
If you’ve never gone online as a guy, try it. Use a male
name next time you make a throwaway account on Reddit
or other social media sites. Being male online will blow your
mind. You’ll never fully appreciate what it’s like not to be targeted and just how differently you will be treated by groups,
businesses, and other individuals until you spend time online
as a man.
As women, we’re targeted just because we show up. Every
time we go on Facebook or leave a comment with a female name
attached to it, we’re checked out for sex, we’re judged accordingly,
and the nontargets act on their judgment. Nonetheless, many
young women aren’t even aware that they bear target status.
Most guys don’t think about what it’s like to be sized up
for sexual value as the first thing anyone sees about them,
everywhere they go—anytime they go online, walk into a room,
or try to join a conversation. Most men don’t have to deal with
being a target their whole lives the same way that women
do—including people who are female gendered, female-bodied,
and all along the spectrum of gender expression.
Men also feel more comfortable drawing attention to themselves when they feel targeted than women do. Guys are often
louder when they’ve been targeted, whereas women have
become trained to be lone soldiers online, knowing that to
send up a signal flare for help is more likely to attract enemies
than allies.
The privacy settings at social media sites and apps have
a baseline of normal that doesn’t consider the fact that half of
their users are being targeted. The situation sucks, because
in fact we have a lot of male allies out there. This book and
the many conversations women are having about these issues
are raising the profile of target status. Soon, ignorance will
be no defense.
This book is for women of all ages, and I’d be remiss not to
say that it’s also for women of all shades on the gender identity
8 C h a pt e r 1
spectrum and that people of all genders and orientations are
warmly welcomed here. Females aren’t the only ones who
bear target status. Women attack and stalk, too, and LGBTQ
people are routinely left out of the privacy conversation—or
worse, ignored altogether.
Losi ng You r Pr i vac y
Some people might try to tell you that by being online, sharing photos, or having a public presence on the Internet, you’re
somehow “asking for it.” Don’t fall for this. Just because a girl
wears a skirt, is she “asking for” sexual assault? Of course not.
People make these arguments when you’re not giving them
what they want—and what they want is something private
from you. When you refuse to give these people what they
want by standing your ground about something private, they
often get mean and angry. The idea that consumers somehow
deserve to be violated because we want to live our lives on
our own terms is a hurtful myth that’s used to make us feel
ashamed so we won’t stand up for ourselves.
Privacy is your right. Assuming you’re not an ax murderer,
it’s up to you to decide what you want to keep private, and
whatever you want to keep private is worth protecting. Don’t
let anyone—no matter how important, famous, or powerful—
make you feel ashamed about standing up for your boundaries.
Only those who have proven that they’ll treat your personal
stuff responsibly should get access to it, and the only one who
can truly protect your privacy is you.
When you lose your privacy, personal things are shared
with strangers that
• are embarrassing;
• are hurtful;
• put you in danger;
get smart 9
• may cause you to lose things you care about or need, like
money, child custody, or employment;
• may cause you to lose your job or get kicked out of school
(or hurt your chances of getting a job, and so on);
• ruin your reputation;
• are used to tell lies about you;
• expose the privacy of people you care about (such as your
family members), putting them at risk; and
• make it easy for criminals to steal your identity.
The loss of your private information can affect your family,
employment, education, relationships, credit, online memories,
mental and emotional health, friends, and reputation. Having
your private information fall into the hands of stalkers, data
brokers, competitors, exes, anyone who is mad at you, people
who think it’s fun to hurt random strangers, and companies
that profit from selling information to advertisers or other
shoppers can ruin your life.
Ways You Can Lose Your Privacy
You can lose your privacy in a number of ways, and most of
the time, it’s not your fault. Often, your privacy gets violated
because no one warned you about what to look out for or who
not to trust. The ways your privacy gets screwed with—privacy
threats—fall into four categories.
People with good intentions
• Friends sharing your location, like with check-ins
• People taking photos or video of you without your permission
• Someone accidentally (or intentionally) seeing your computer, phone, or tablet screen while you log in, sign up
for something, make a purchase, or open an application
such as iPhoto
10 C h a pt e r 1
People with evil intentions
• Someone sharing personal or sexual photos (or videos)
without your consent
• Hackers or creeps spying through your webcams
• Someone making embarrassing information public or
sending private details about you to people like your boss
• Malicious people publishing your private information (like
your address) online
G reedy, douchey companies
• Websites changing settings and making private things
• Websites tricking you into entering personal information
• Companies like online stores, Google, Facebook and other
social media sites, email services, and others selling your
personal information to other companies (like their advertisers or third-party affiliates)
• People-finder services buying and collecting your private
information and making it available for purchase
O ops . . . accidents
• Not realizing that something you put online is public
• Not knowing which things to avoid sharing online
• Not using a password on your phone, laptop, certain apps,
or file folders
• Unclear website privacy settings causing you to make
private things public
get smart 11
Prot ect You r se l f Righ t Now
With so many ways your privacy can be compromised, it can
seem like being safe is at odds with having a life online—
especially if you intend to be at all sexy or sexual. But you
don’t have to live a boring, antisocial life to be safe. You can
protect yourself.
Some people feel like they can’t do anything online without
putting themselves at risk. But being online and using social
media, different apps, photo-sharing websites, or even dating
sites can be as safe as you want it to be. When you get in a car,
you put on your seat belt. When you get on a motorcycle, you
put on a helmet. When you get on the Internet, it’s as safe as
you make it. Here are some things to do right now.
Tape Over Your Webcam
Everything has a camera. Your phone, your laptop, your tablet,
your Kindle. If you have a modern device that can get online,
it probably has a camera. And if it has a camera, someone
looking for cash or scummy thrills has figured out how to hack
into it and turn it on without triggering the on light. No joke.
That’s why you need to put a piece of tape over your webcam,
even when it’s off or if you never use it.
A year before Cassidy Wolf was crowned Miss Teen USA
2013, a guy in her high school used a program to hack into the
webcam on her computer and take photos of her. She found out
when he got into her social media accounts and tried to extort
money from her. It turns out that she was one of 12 girls he
had taken photos of and threatened for cash. You can bet he
shared the photos; there are forums where guys who run these
cam scams post photos they collect. Don’t believe me? Google
“ex-girlfriend pictures” or type it into any torrent search engine.
You can make your camera worthless for spying—but still
usable when you choose—by keeping it taped up. Sticky notes
work well because they have a gentle adhesive and are easy to
12 C h a pt e r 1
replace. You can also find privacy stickers for purchase online
that are made specifically for putting on (and taking off) web
and phone cameras.
Cassidy Wolf ’s malicious hacker used a program that
turned on cameras without activating the light or doing anything to let the girls know they were being spied on. In fact,
this happens more often than it gets reported in the news.
There’s a huge black market for compromised webcams
and the video or photos they can record, and unsurprisingly,
cams belonging to girls and the images that can be stolen from
them are worth the most amount of money. Such programs
are typically put on a computer when the victim clicks a link,
often through an email, and they infect the computer with a
program that hides while letting the computer’s camera be
controlled remotely. This is just one form of an online hack
attack called phishing. (Learn more about phishing, how to spot
it, and how to avoid becoming a phishing victim in Chapter 5,
“Identity Theft.”)
After her harrowing experience, Ms. Wolf now tapes over all
of her webcams, changes her passwords, never uses someone
else’s computer or phone, and never reveals personal details
to strangers or “friends” she just met. That’s what you should
be doing, too.
Lock Your Phone, Computer, and Tablet
Put a password or personal identification number (PIN) on
your computer, tablet, and phone. There’s a Creepy Steve in
every café, on every bus, in your friend circle, and among your
family’s friends. If Creepy Steve sits down at your computer
or picks up your phone, iPad, or Kindle when you go pee, and
you didn’t lock it, he’s got access to any account you left open.
This can include email, messaging and chat, social media,
photographs, personal files, Internet history, and even bank
get smart 13
It’s even scarier when your device has been stolen, because
the attacker has all the time in the world (or at least until you
notice the theft) to rummage through your accounts. (If you
hate passwords and PINs annoy you and slow everything
down, don’t miss Chapter 10, “I Hate Passwords.”)
Do a Privacy Check-Up
Make a list of your online accounts and apps and set aside one
hour to double-check your privacy settings. If it sounds as fun
as doing household chores, that’s because it is. Unfortunately,
sites like Facebook like to screw with your privacy settings,
so chances are good that if you haven’t checked your settings
in the past few months, you might be revealing something
you will regret.
You’ll worry less about the privacy bait and switch these
sites like to play on users after you read Chapter 6, “How to
Share.” For now, just bite the bullet, do a privacy check-up,
and reward yourself afterward because you’re worth it. You’ll
feel 1,000 percent better when it’s done, I promise.
Don’t Email Your ID
Never scan or photograph your ID and send it to anyone
online—even to Google or Facebook. No one should be asking for your ID, and you’re not legally required to show it.
Companies that ask are treading a thin line, and you have no
way of knowing if the information you share is really, definitely
safe. ID information could hand an identity thief the keys to
your entire life. (When you read about identity theft and how
to avoid or fix it in Chapter 5, you’ll see why you shouldn’t send
your ID via email, text, or any other unsecured way online.)
Many people-finder websites (also called “people search”
or “people lookup” services) require that you scan and provide
your ID in order to opt out of them selling your information.
They even have onerous procedures such as accepting opt-out
14 C h a pt e r 1
request letters only via fax or postal mail. This seems to be
standard practice. To stay safe, never scan and send your ID
to anyone without blacking out your photo and ID number.
Find out more in Chapter 7, “People-Search Websites.”
Use a Password Manager and Install an Antitheft App
Don’t ever let your computer or your browser save (or “remember”) your passwords. Use a password manager like 1Password,
LastPass, KeePass, or any of the recommendations in the
Resources section.
Along with a password manager, install an antitheft app
like Prey or Lookout. You can download these apps to your
computer or phone, giving you the power to track your devices
if they get stolen or used by someone else.
Antitheft apps can camouflage themselves as games and
lock and remotely wipe your devices. They can show you where
your device is on a map, take photos from the device’s camera,
and upload those photos to your online account. You’ll be able
to see not only where your laptop or phone is but also who
has it, and you can give this information to the police. These
apps all do things a little differently, but the general idea is
the same.
Be t h e Fi r e wa l l
Remember that you decide what information about yourself
to reveal and when, why, and to whom. Social tech empowers
you to run your own social life, but it can just as easily put you
in the crosshairs of stalkers and criminals. Sometimes it feels
like protecting your privacy is a full-time job, with more-thanoccasional midnight and weekend shifts for good measure.
This book changes all of that. In the following chapters,
you’ll find answers to help you conquer every privacy puzzle,
including how to have revenge porn taken down, remove your
information from people-search sites, survive having your
get smart 15
identity stolen, date safely, conquer the insanity of social
media privacy, and much more.
The best part is that you don’t have to give up doing anything you like. Don’t worry if you can’t do every single thing
in this book. Even taking just four actions from the “Eight
Privacy Tips to Use Right Now” on page 4 will tip the privacy scales in your favor.
From now on, you’re going to stay a step or two ahead of
anyone who wants to steal from you, mess with your life, or
silence you online. All you have to do is what you’re already
doing—you’re just going to do it a little smarter.
“Never sit at a table you can’t walk away from.”
— J o s s W h e d o n
but it’s just my
phone number
You’d be surprised by how far one creep or criminal can get
with your phone number. It’s hard to believe that one little
thing can cause so much trouble, but keeping your private
life under wraps comes down to controlling certain pieces of
information as much as you possibly can. You’re about to find
out exactly what information I’m talking about and how to
protect all of it.
You C on t rol W h at You Sh a r e
It’s really important to safeguard pieces of personally identifying information, like your phone number, online. Social
media and advertising companies are continually compiling
dossiers on you, trying to match information across services
18 C h a pt e r 2
and devices in order to piece together the most complete profile they can. The more complete the info, the more valuable
it is when they sell it to and trade it with third parties. From
these third parties, your private information becomes public
in people-search databases. As if this weren’t bad enough,
malicious hackers look for clues to your private information
in everything you do online.
The armor you build around that identifying information
protects every aspect of your privacy. Of course, what you do
in private or choose to share with friends is your own business.
But if you want to be confident that your information remains
personal, only share identifying info with people you trust.
For example, if you enjoy sex or explore aspects of your
sexual identity using technology, that experience should belong
to you. Only you should get to decide whether it was a good or
bad thing to do. Sexuality is one of the most important ways
in which we identify, establish, and maintain our boundaries.
Just as importantly, you should get to decide if that experience
(whether it’s sharing intimate photos, talking dirty on the
phone or via voice chat, sexting, having any kind of online sex,
or just disclosing something on a sexual topic) gets shared with
anyone else. Personal information and experiences should be
private and under your control, unless you decide otherwise.
If you do decide to share that information, you should know
exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Pr i vat e Space s a n d Acti v iti e s
Private exploration, sexual and otherwise, is something we do
to better understand ourselves. We experiment with different
ideas about who we are and different ways of expressing our
identities. Sometimes, we may even play around with being
something (or someone) that we’re not like at all in the real
world. Private spaces are where we get to safely figure out
who we are.
but it’s just my phone number 19
Privacy is critical to being able to decide what you like,
discover what feels right and wrong for yourself, and find and
keep your boundaries. That’s just the truth and always has
been. What’s changed is the role technology plays in our private experiences. If you have a sexual moment in your room,
that moment is still all yours unless you choose to share it.
But when you have a private moment or experience online,
you’re taking a risk with your privacy.
Until the online revolution, our private spaces for exploration were our bedrooms and bathrooms, our homes, our
phone calls, and our inner fantasy worlds. Now, those spaces
can include texts, emails, photos, videos, and direct messages
to trusted friends or family members. Online, private spaces
include email inboxes, chat rooms, Internet Relay Chat (IRC),
social media profiles, non-public messaging systems (Twitter
direct messages [DMs], Facebook chat), dating websites, message boards, and all the places where your personal information resides. But those spaces are only private if you can really
trust the people you share that information with.
For example, if you send or communicate something private
while at work, at school, or even on Facebook, it might not be
private because it might not actually be “yours” anymore—
legally and, to some degree, practically speaking. The places
where you experience private time online and on your phone
are usually watched and monitored by the companies who
host those services, too.
The problem is that not everyone understands or agrees
on what constitutes a private space online, and some people
don’t know what information they need to protect and keep
private. Even one piece of private information can unlock a
trail that will expose most, if not all, of the other information
it’s attached to ( just read Mat Honan’s story in Chapter 3).
No one has a clear idea about which systems can be trusted
completely, which systems should never be trusted, and which
20 C h a pt e r 2
systems to watch very carefully. Worse, many online companies, including some of the big ones you’d think you could
trust, have made it their business to take advantage of that
confusion and misplaced trust by leveraging privacy laws
that are way behind the times to collect, sell, and trade your
private information as data, in their databases. That’s a
problem because it takes away your control over things that
could expose or hurt you, like your identifying information
and metadata (detailed background information on you) that
these companies collect when you use their services. The sad
fact is that these companies care about their bottom lines and
their corporate advertisers more than they do about you as a
consumer, so don’t believe otherwise for a minute. Companies
like Twitter, Google, and Facebook need to convince you to
share your private information because their advertisers “need”
access to what rightfully belongs to you.
But you have a choice, and it’s not your job to keep corporations wealthy by empowering them to invade your personal
space. Your private information and activities should remain
private, including all of the following:
• What you say or express in private chat or direct messages
• What you say or express in emails
• What you say or express on the phone
• What you say or express in your personal relationships
• Your text messages
• Personal photos that you share
• Your activity on dating websites
• Information related to your sexual activities and sexual
but it’s just my phone number 21
• Information related to your health and medical records,
including searches, doctor visits, and associated communications
• Information related to your gender identity
• Time you spend doing things that you want to keep to
• Anything you keep in private files on your computer or
Next, I’ll explain what information you should watch most
closely and how to ensure that your private activities stay
Lock Dow n You r Per sona l ly
I de n ti f y i ng I n f or m ation
Lots of things tempt us to give up our email address, phone
number, physical address, ZIP code, and so on—sometimes
The information you should guard most closely is your personally identifying information (PII), or just personal information. Even a few pieces of PII can be used to identify, contact,
or locate you, allowing malicious people to attack you, stalkers
to find you, and entities to get more information about you
than you want to share. Companies like Facebook and Google
use your PII for profit. Don’t just give it away.
The following sections list what you should consider personal information, and each is named after a stoplight color
so you can see which items are critical. The items on the red
alert list can be used directly against you, and you should
never give out or share these with any person, company, app,
or website that you don’t know or trust. The yellow alert list
contains items that you should be very careful with because
22 C h a pt e r 2
malicious hackers and stalkers can use them, but they can’t
hurt you with this information unless they have other pieces
of information, too.
If anyone or any company asks for any of the items on your
red or yellow lists, be on guard. But don’t freak out if you’ve
already given these things to other companies, no matter
how shady they are. Even when things go screwy, it’s almost
never too late.
Red Alert List
Everything in this section can be used to directly hurt or harm
you, steal your identity, make you physically unsafe, threaten
or expose your loved ones, steal your money, or access your
online accounts. DON’T give this information out, and DON’T
publish it online. DO keep close track of where it has been seen
and who knows about it.
Red alert items can’t be changed (or are very hard to
change) if something goes wrong, so you should watch what
happens with everything on this list like a mama hawk:
• Passwords
• Real, full (family) name
• Address of your home, workplace, or school
• Social Security number
• Government ID numbers (driver’s license number and
passport number)
• Date and place of birth
• Biometric information (fingerprints, facial recognition,
voice recognition)
• Computer’s IP address (a unique number that identifies
your computer on the Internet)
but it’s just my phone number 23
• Specific location (geolocation numbers, like those from
your phone or in tagged photos)
• Credit and debit card numbers, security codes, and expiration dates
• Bank account numbers
• Answers to common security questions
Let’s talk for a moment about those answers to common
security questions. These can include your pet’s name, your
mother’s maiden name, the city you were born in, and often
other things that are easy to guess or dig up on your Facebook
profile. A million years ago, when Paris Hilton’s phone was
hacked, the intruder reset her phone’s password by getting one
security question correct: her dog’s name, which was findable
on every gossip site in the world.
Note Credit card and bank account numbers are on the red list
because while they can be changed, you can usually change
them only after there has been a problem. Passwords can
also be changed, but anyone who has them also has access
to much of your red list information.
Yellow Alert List
Yellow items can be used with other information to harm
you, so avoid giving them out unless you trust the people or
companies you share them with. If you choose to share them,
keep a close eye on where they appear and who can see them.
Some yellow items can be changed if your personal information falls into evil hands, but changing them isn’t easy:
• Name you use day to day, if different from your legal name
• Primary screen name(s)
• Email address (if it’s not public)
• Telephone number
24 C h a pt e r 2
• Race, sexual orientation, and gender
• Mailing address (if it’s different from your residence; other­
wise it’s red)
• Country, state, and city of residence
• ZIP code (or postal code)
• Google Voice number
Fortunately, you can make dummy versions of yellow items
to use when you don’t trust an app, website, social network, or
person. Google Voice is on this list because if it’s linked to your
cell phone number, getting locked out of your Google account
means that you’ll be locked out of both numbers.
Note Even if yellow items are revealed to bad entities, they still
won’t sink your ship. Read more about making a dupe copy
of your yellow items (and even some red items) in Chapter 9,
“Ninja Tricks.”
If the red and yellow items seem like a lot to manage, or
some of the items have already ended up “out there,” don’t
worry. I’ll show you how to fix and recover from those big
and small privacy mistakes and how to manage your privacy
easily going forward.
Green List
Items on your green list are okay to share. This list includes
information about you that can’t be used to hurt you or that’s
a dummy version of the real thing. For instance, if the numbers of your single-use credit card are stolen, you’ll only lose
the amount on the card. That’s way better than losing a real
credit card, which is tied to your credit score and often various
online accounts and could cause a big headache.
but it’s just my phone number 25
Here are some examples of green items:
• Secondary screen names or account names (say, a throwaway email address that forwards to your primary address)
• Mailing address or PO box
• Digital, online phone number, such as a Skype number
• Email addresses that are not linked to a vital service, such
as your bank account
• Photos and videos that don’t embarrass you or reveal
private information
• Social media profiles on sites where you’re confident you
understand the privacy settings
• General likes, favorites, and things you enjoy sharing on
social media sites
• Single-use or gift credit cards
Apply the red, yellow, and green system to apps and online
accounts to judge them for safety. An online account or app
that asks for red information gets a red grade. If an app asks
for a lot of red or yellow information but doesn’t actually
require that information in order to function, same thing:
the site, account, or app is high risk. Even if it has the best
security team in the world, it still gets the red or yellow rating
because if it gets attacked, you’re in more trouble (and have
to do more post-attack cleanup in your life) than with a green
app or account.
Information-Sharing Guidelines
As a rule, don’t give out personally identifying information
too readily. If you wouldn’t give some bus driver or a creepy
mall cop your home address and phone number, remember
26 C h a pt e r 2
that just because websites ask for (or demand) personal info
doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. And you can often
give fake information to get to the next screen.
Of course, you have to give real billing information when
you buy things, but if you’re registering with a free site that
feels like it’s getting too nosy about your business, give it fake
information. You’re not breaking any law under the sun if
you do that. Just don’t use someone else’s real address; you’ll
definitely get in trouble for that.
Don’t be fooled by websites that offer some sort of reward
or prize in exchange for your contact information or other
personal details. Usually, your name, browser and computer
information, and email address are worth much more to them
than whatever they’re offering you because they can sell your
information to other marketers, who will also resell it. You
won’t win an iPad, but the marketer will win a few more bucks
if you give them your information. And female data sets are
always worth more on the market than male ones, because
women usually make more buying decisions and spend more
money than men. (We’re also worth more on the black market
for seedy things like hacked webcam access, as mentioned in
the story about Miss Teen USA in Chapter 1.)
A couple more things: avoid sending highly personal email
to mailing lists and keep sensitive files only on your home
computer. Your workplace or school is legally monitoring your
Internet use and email on its network, so don’t do anything
private or sensitive in nature (like banking) on a work or
school network. In most countries, employees have little if any
privacy protection from monitoring by employers.
H e S a i d, Sh e S a i d
Maybe you’re thinking, “Eh, if my phone number gets in the
wrong hands, it’s really not that that big of a deal. I can always
block the caller or hang up. Who cares, right?”
but it’s just my phone number 27
Let me tell you a story.
Every year in Germany, the world’s longest-running
hacker conference happens just after Christmas—Chaos
Communication Congress (CCC). My bosses at CBS have
never seen a great reason for me to fly from San Francisco to
Hamburg to find news at some hacker gathering to report on
over the holidays, when they’re all away from the office with
their families on the US East Coast. But one year, my interest in hackers and cybercrime got my editors to pay attention
to my trip.
I was on my way to the airport Christmas Eve when I got
some cryptic Twitter messages from hackers who had told
the popular photo-sharing service Snapchat (which supposedly “disappears” your photos after you send them) that the
service had a security problem. Snapchat ignored the hackers’
Those same hackers messaged me to say they had found
more serious problems with Snapchat and they had written
a blog post about it. Right after I broke the news for CBS,
malicious hackers took the user information—which included
the name they registered with, username (handle), and phone
number—and published all of it online.
On the long flight to CCC, I started chatting with a woman
seated next to me about the news story. I explained that parts
of Snapchat’s huge user information database had been posted
online for anyone to download and rifle through, and that the
guys who ran Snapchat didn’t seem to care.
She asked me whether names, phone numbers, email
addresses, or even passwords were online. I told her that as
far as we could tell, it was only usernames and phone numbers so far.
Her boyfriend, seated on the other side of the aisle, was listening, and he chose that moment to chime in. “Phone numbers
28 C h a pt e r 2
and names? That’s it?” he said. “Oh if it’s just phone numbers and our names, whatever.”
His girlfriend didn’t agree. It was awkward.
This could have been a story about any app, or any of a zillion privacy breaches in the past couple of years. It isn’t a story
about “right” or “wrong” ways of thinking about privacy. Their
reactions just show a great example of the difference between
what women and men see as risky exposure. He didn’t think it
was a big deal for anyone to have his number, username, and
real name. She, on the other hand, said it made her worried.
What my seatmate’s boyfriend didn’t consider is that he
could also be a stalking victim—straight guys attract psychos, too. Creeps and stalkers come in all genders and sexual
orientations. Men tend to feel a greater sense of physical and
social safety, but that feeling is often illusory. Men are victims of malicious activity online all the time, as I’ll describe
in Chapter 3 with journalist Mat Honan’s story.
Wor st- Ca se Sce na r io
The sad fact is that women have more reasons to be concerned
about online privacy than men do, because women are at
greater risk for physical violence and are directly targeted
more often than men.
What’s the worst thing that usually happens to a man’s
phone number? Someone posts it on Craigslist (or 4chan) in a
“call and talk dirty to me” ad. A malicious hacker could then
use it to try to reset a password or to try to steal the person’s
identity (which is actually pretty bad).
But think about what could happen to a woman. Identity
theft is awful, but it’s not the worst thing. Say you have an
online enemy, like an ex or any psycho who’s angry, missing
you a little too much, unhinged, drunk and upset, or bent on
revenge. If that person knows or even suspects that you use
but it’s just my phone number 29
a particular online app like Facebook or Twitter, they can
search the app using the information they have (any piece of
a real name, username, or phone number) to see if they can
find your current information.
Once they get more real information about your world,
that stalker, creep, or vengeful ex gets closer to you. They
can use your information to try to see what you’re up to or,
worse, to spy on you, stalk you, or harass you—whether as
their real self or with a fake account. Once a heartbroken ex
or stalker knows what account to zero in on, they may create
a fake account and “friend” you.
Now they can track, harass, bully, and scare you. They
can search for your username on other social media sites and
apps, like photo sites where you post pictures of your boyfriend, family, pets, school, travels, and workplace. They can
search social media sites for a history of your relationships,
meaningful or painful experiences, and more. They can use
location-tracking websites to follow you and your friends and
family. The ways in which companies have woven together our
identifying information online means that something as basic
as your phone number needs to be protected more than ever.
When that stalker gets your phone number, you’re in
trouble. With that number in hand, that bad person can
call you, find you in online databases, make changes to your
accounts and services, or even hack your voicemail.
And it doesn’t end there: anyone bent on vengeance will
add your number to the dossier they’re building about you,
likely with the intent to publish it online later, along with
your name, usernames, email addresses, and a list of online
apps, accounts, and businesses you use. And I’m not talking
about signing you up for magazine subscriptions and pizza
deliveries, though jerks will do that, too.
30 C h a pt e r 2
I don’t have to tell you that exes and stalkers do bad things
in real life when they get close enough to the person they’re
obsessed with. If the malicious creep has posted things online
about you to ruin your reputation, like impersonating you
or publishing revenge porn of any kind, they could add your
phone number to this awful public smear campaign—putting
you at serious risk for more stalking and attacks from others.
“I don’t do damsel in distress very well. It’s hard for me to play
a victim.” —S c a r l e t t J o h a n s s o n
3. you got
Contrary to sensationalist news stories, malicious hackers
don’t always launch attacks to make a political statement or
to get attention: most do it for the money. They want your
phone number or other personal information because they can
use it to steal your identity (among other ways of monetizing
the data) and anything in an account that uses your phone
number as a login or for security questions. In this chapter,
I’ll explain why someone might steal your personal information, how to prevent that from happening, and what to do if
it does happen to you.
Names, usernames, and other personally identifying information are worth money on the black market. They get sold
to data brokers, who add the info to bigger databases to be
32 C h a pt e r 3
matched with more of your information. That pool of information
is then resold to people who sell it yet again as people-finder
services—and to people who make money off of identity theft.
How can malicious hackers use a single phone number to
totally own your life? It might seem like dark magic involving
voodoo candles and computer masterminds, but all an attacker
really needs to do is figure out how to play different websites’
password resets off each other in a kind of daisy chain.
It’s almost child’s play. In fact, it took one attacker only
one hour to destroy the digital life of Wired journalist Mat
Honan. Before Honan could grasp what was going on, his
attacker remotely erased (forever) everything on his iPhone,
iPad, and MacBook, including photos of deceased in-laws and
the first year of his daughter’s life. That attacker also deleted
Honan’s Google account and took over his Twitter account to
post a bunch of racist and homophobic tweets under his name.
Honan realized something was wrong when he was playing with his daughter and suddenly his iPhone restarted and
asked for a four-digit PIN. He knew he hadn’t set the phone
up with a PIN.
On e C ompromise d Accou n t
to Ru l e T h e m A l l
Making an amazing bunch of passwords wouldn’t have saved
Honan, because his attacker didn’t run a program to crack
or brute-force his password. They weren’t using some crazyadvanced, hacker-voodoo program. The attacker simply reset
the password on just one of Honan’s online accounts, thanks to
a seemingly harmless piece of personally identifying information: a street address. Then the attacker went to town resetting
and taking over the rest of Honan’s accounts.
Honan’s Amazon account went first, when his attacker
fooled Amazon’s tech support into revealing part of a credit
card number in his billing information. The attack was easy
you got hacked 33
enough: the attacker just called Amazon, gave Honan’s name
and billing address, and added a new credit card to the account.
Then, the attacker called Amazon again, said they’d lost access
to “their” account (actually Mat’s account), and provided the
new credit card number as proof of identity. Amazon let the
attacker add a new email address to Honan’s account, and
from there they just logged in, changed the main password,
and started using the information saved in Amazon account
to set to work on Honan’s Apple account.
When this particular attack occurred, Amazon showed
customers the same four digits of their credit card numbers
that Apple used to verify identities and release account information. The four digits that Amazon didn’t hide were the same
ones that Apple hid, so the attacker had enough information
from Amazon to get into Honan’s Apple ID account. Once in,
they wiped his devices. Next, they used the information they
had acquired to do a Gmail password reset, which gave them
access to Honan’s Twitter account—their true goal. Game over.
W h at Hona n Di d W rong
All Honan’s attacker needed to crack his Apple account was an
email address, the last four digits of a credit card on file, and
the card’s billing address. Honan’s Gmail and Apple accounts
were linked, allowing the attacker to see the credit card digits
from Honan’s Amazon account. The final piece, Honan’s billing
address, was publicly available: a whois lookup* on Honan’s
website (which lacked privacy controls that would have hidden his address) did the job.
* A whois lookup (pronounced “who is”) is the name for a query and response protocol—a tool—
used to look up the ownership information on a website. To use a whois lookup, you enter a web
address into the tool’s search form, and the tool gives you all the public information associated
with that website, such as the owner’s name, address, and phone number. Most domain registration companies (such as GoDaddy, Dotster, or HostGator) let you make your information private
for a fee, which keeps it out of easy public reach. If you haven’t activated account privacy on
websites you’ve registered, do it now—and make sure everyone who shares an address with you
has done it for all of their sites as well.
34 C h a pt e r 3
Both Amazon and Apple have since closed the holes that
allowed the devastating attack on Honan, but bad security
practices are everywhere online. Honan lost his photos forever
because he didn’t store backup copies elsewhere for safekeeping. He inadvertently gave his attackers access by linking his
Gmail and Apple accounts. All his email addresses used the
same user ID (mhonan), and the email address he used for
account and password recovery was part of his Google account.
His iPhone and computer were remotely wiped because he had
set up Find My Mac, which a lot of people use.
Honan’s story sounds like a complicated mess, and it was,
but you can learn from his mistakes.
H ack- Proof You r Li f e
The good news is that Honan’s mistakes are avoidable. Here
are some easy things you can do to try to prevent attacks on
your personal information and accounts.
Make Your Address Hard to Find
If you have a website, make sure you have whois privacy
turned on. If the company your domain or website is registered
with doesn’t offer this feature, change registrars right away
and hide that information. Next, remove your address from
people-search websites. (Chapter 7 and the Resources section
will help you do this.)
Don’t Link Major Accounts
Some apps want you to link your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr,
Instagram, and other accounts with them. The problem is, if
all of those accounts are linked, someone needs to crack only
that one app to have access to all of those accounts. If you do
choose to link your accounts, make sure each is an information dead end for malicious attackers. And think twice before
you got hacked 35
allowing online apps access to accounts like those hosted by
Google and Apple, which probably contain a lot of sensitive
Don’t Use One Service for Everything
As tempting as it is to use one company and one email account
for everything online (or as much as Google might try to make
you), you’re much safer if you use different services for your
important stuff. For instance, if you have Google Voice linked
to your phone number, use Google Calendar and Google docs
for work and personal stuff, have Gmail as your main email,
and store all of your contacts and addresses with Google, then
you’re screwed if your Gmail account is compromised. If you
get hacked and lose your Google account, you’ll find it hard
to get it back, and it can take days to do so. First you’ll feel
violated and robbed, but then you’ll feel like Google is holding
you hostage.
If this happens to you, keep reading: resources and information about the account-recovery process are provided later
in this chapter and will help you start the process of getting
your life back. But this is why it’s so important to prepare in
case you get hacked. Protect yourself—diversify your stuff.
Back Up Your Everything:
Your Contacts, Your Files, Your Photos
Back up everything. Use a secure backup hard drive that you
keep at home (or in another safe place), or keep your backups
on a computer that’s separate from all others. CrashPlan is
an example of a backup service that copies and stores your
files on a regular schedule, and it also comes as stand-alone
software. Don’t use a friend or family member’s computer for
backups because not only do you risk them looking at your
stuff, but if they’re compromised, your stuff is at risk, too.
36 C h a pt e r 3
You might consider backing up your files to a cloud service like Dropbox, Box, or Amazon, but if you do, make sure
to separate that account from all other accounts by giving it
a different username and password.
Encrypt Your Computer’s Hard Drive
Encryption lets you protect your electronic information with a
virtually uncrackable password, and Windows, Mac, iOS, and
Android all offer ways to encrypt your local storage. Search
online to find out how to turn encryption on for your system.
Look for Apple’s built-in encryption program FileVault and
BitLocker on Windows. Without encryption, anyone with a
few minutes of access to your computer, tablet, or smartphone
can spy on, copy, or steal your files, even if they don’t have
your password.
Ultimately, you should watch your personal information like a hawk and keep an eye out for unusual activity.
Something is probably wrong if your accounts start sending
password resets you know you didn’t initiate or if you start getting account-recovery emails. And beware of account-recovery
emails for accounts you know are not yours: these are probably fake phishing emails designed to trick you into clicking
links and entering passwords, inadvertently revealing your
information or allowing the installation of malware on your
If things go wrong in spite of taking these precautions,
you can still minimize the damage. I’ll tell you how in the
next section.
W h at to Do W h e n You ’ v e Be e n Attack e d
There are two main ways you can be the victim of malicious
hacking: you can be personally targeted, or you can be the
victim of a company that follows bad security practices.
you got hacked 37
Note To see if your information was released in a recent breach of
a company’s website, visit
If you think your accounts have been attacked, try to access
those accounts. If you’re able to log in, reset the passwords if
possible, and check all settings carefully in case an attacker
added a forwarding address for all of your email or changed
your security questions. Check everything.
In particular, if your email account is attacked, follow
these steps:
1. Change your password.
2. Change your username if possible.
3. Look through your inbox for unusual activity.
4. Check sent email for suspicious activity, and see what you
find in the Trash.
5. See if any users or email addresses have been added to the
account and delete any you don’t recognize.
6. Look for email forwarding. If you didn’t turn it on, turn
it off.
7. Check every single setting. If you’re not sure what a particular setting means, search for it online. Also look for
settings that just look wrong or out of place.
8. If any of your contacts have been sent emails that were
not from you, contact them immediately. Warn them that
your account has been compromised and not to respond to
or click anything in those emails. Let them know too that
you have the situation under control.
Follow any relevant steps in the list above for all of the
accounts you can access. You may still be locked out of some
accounts at this point, but don’t panic. You can get them back.
38 C h a pt e r 3
Recover Your Accounts and Data
Next, contact websites for which you’re unable to reset passwords, and follow their account-recovery processes. Many,
like Twitter and Google, will have online forms you can fill
out or other procedures to follow when you’ve been locked out
of your account.
For example, Google will ask you questions that only you
can answer, like which five people you email most often. After
a day or so, you should receive an email that sends you to a
page where you have to answer more questions about your
Google account, such as the names of your folders, when you
started using different Google services, and so on. Getting your
Google account back can take at least 48 hours, often longer.
Google may not be known for customer service, and neither
is Yahoo!, Hotmail, or any other “free” online business. But
you’ll have to put up with them to get your accounts back,
and here’s a short list of forms and phone numbers to get you
started. (For help finding direct phone numbers that may save
you a ton of time, check out
• Amazon: Use Help4Contact Us.
• Apple: Reset your Apple ID password at http://iforgot​, or find your Apple
ID at
• eBay: Call 1.866.961.9253. Tell them you’d like to talk
about “Account—someone has used your account.”
• Facebook:
• Google:
• Microsoft (Outlook, Xbox, Hotmail, and so on): http://
• PayPal: 1.888.221.1161 (Outside the United States, call
you got hacked 39
• Twitter:
• Yahoo!: or
You’ll have to look hard to find support for some websites,
and others may have nothing to help you. If you don’t see what
you need in the list here, search online for “[website] account
verification form” or “[website] account hacked,” or go to the
website’s help or contact page.
When you contact a company, be prepared with your
account details or other personal information. Don’t expect
all companies to be uniformly helpful, no matter how big they
are or how many fans they have. When Honan tried to contact
Apple for help, Apple support was useless, even though he had
AppleCare. He ultimately took his Mac in to an Apple Store
while it was still being remotely wiped (the wipe takes a while),
and an employee was able to stop the wipe from progressing.
Once you recover your accounts, follow the same steps as
in “What to Do When You’ve Been Attacked” on page 36 for
accounts you didn’t have to recover. Yes, it’s a pain, and it’ll
take a while, but it’s worth your time and effort. For example,
Honan had to borrow a friend’s computer so he could reset
his Apple password. From there, he used iCloud backups to
restore his phone and laptop. It took seven hours to restore
his phone, but eventually he got his life back.
Attackers will often delete your data after they’ve gone
through it, too. Don’t be surprised if you go into your compromised accounts and find that all of your emails, contacts,
photos, and other data have been erased. By the way, if you
ever have a hard drive wiped as a result of an attack, take your
computer to a place that specializes in hard drive recovery to
try to recover some of your data. Only go to reputable places,
like DriveSavers, and expect a price tag around $1,500 or more.
40 C h a pt e r 3
Once you have your accounts back and secured, you may be
able to restore your contacts and any other data from backups.
If you don’t have backups, let people know what you’ve lost
(like their contact information or files you’ve shared), so they
can help you start getting your life back on track.
Even if you never get attacked personally, a company you
trust with sensitive data could be breached, leaving your information exposed. In that case, follow the steps I describe next.
When a Service Gets Hacked
In February 2014, I reported for that Comcast
had been breached and the company had ignored the attack.
I warned that Comcast customers were at risk of losing their
email accounts to identity theft, with potential financial repercussions. Unfortunately, Comcast never told its users that
their sensitive account information might have been leaked.
A lot of Comcast users asked me what they should do.
I gave a checklist of minimum requirements to be safe and
suggestions for users who want to be very, very careful. This
is a good checklist of what to change after a service you use
has been compromised.
At the very least, you should change passwords for the
• All services and email accounts belonging to the breached
business, especially ones tied to your main account
• Services or accounts that use the hacked account’s email
address as the username. For instance, if Comcast is
attacked and you use your <name> email
address anywhere, change the passwords to those sites.
To be extra careful, change these, too:
• The master account’s username (eHow has tutorials for
services such as Comcast.)
you got hacked 41
• Passwords to any connected billing systems and to services with the same password as the one you used for the
compromised service
• The username of any account that uses the compromised
email address as its username
I also suggested that victims of a breach log in to any billing
accounts connected to the breached service (like an autopay
bank account or a credit card) and, if possible, add an alert
for unusual activity. If a data breach affects you, it’s a good
idea to personally monitor your connected billing accounts
frequently for unusual activity. Even if you’re not a victim,
make sure your autopay account has some kind of safeguard
against fraudulent activity, just in case.
And if you’re ever the victim of a company’s data breach,
fill out the claim form on the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) website so you have something official in hand should
your accounts be used for criminal activity. (Visit http://ftc and click Identity Theft.) If enough
claim forms are submitted, the compromised company may
be held accountable through class-action lawsuits, which you
may want to join. Many companies have also begun to offer
free credit monitoring to affected customers.
When a service that you trusted with your financial information experiences a data breach, watch your financial accounts
closely. If you notice suspicious behavior, take action immediately. Learn more about this in the next section.
I f You r Fi na nci a l I n f or m ation M ay H av e
Be e n E x pose d i n a Data Br e ach
If you suspect that your bank information, credit cards, PayPal
account, or any other financial apps or services may have been
compromised by a data breach, contact your bank and credit
card companies about your accounts right away. Change your
42 C h a pt e r 3
passwords for any at-risk accounts and ask the companies to
monitor your accounts for fraud.
If a company won’t put a watch on your account (I’ve had
customer service people at credit card companies say they
don’t), be sure to write down the time, date, and person you
talked to when you tried to alert the company about suspicious activity. Then, monitor your accounts for unauthorized
transactions. The FTC recommends that you close any credit
card accounts that you know have been compromised.
If you close a checking account, keep in mind that checks
you’ve written may be returned, and recent transactions may
bounce. If you use an automatic bill payment system or have
set up debits from your bank account, update your account
profile information to reflect your changes. Do the same for
your PayPal account or similar online payment and banking
If you’re a US citizen and the information exposed includes
your Social Security number, use the following information to
contact the three major credit bureau companies and place a
fraud alert on your report:
• Equifax: 1.800.525.6285;; PO Box
740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
• Experian: 1.888.397.3742;; PO Box
2002, Allen, TX 75013
• TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289;;
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton,
CA 92834-6790
With a fraud alert in place, banks and credit bureaus will
know they should contact you to verify applications for new
accounts because of a higher likelihood for fraud.
If information from your driver’s license, state ID, passport,
employer or student ID, Social Security card, or any other
government ID is stolen, replace the ID right away and tell the
you got hacked 43
agency that issued it what happened. That way, the agency can
prevent someone else from using your name to get a fake ID.
Now that you know which accounts you should definitely
change if you get hacked, let’s revisit one that you don’t have
to change but might want to anyway: your email address.
How to Ch a nge You r Em a i l A ddr e ss
Once you’ve reset your password and taken all the steps I
outline under “What to Do When You’ve Been Attacked” on
page 36, you don’t need to dump your email provider, but
you may want to if you think there are security issues or if it
will make you feel better. Maybe your email provider handled
the security breach badly. If they ignored the problem or only
told you about it after you heard about it elsewhere, it’s time
to move.
Note Many people say that it’s better and safer to have your own
domain and host your own email. That’s fine if you know how,
but most people don’t—and that’s okay. Having your email
at, say, Gmail, where it’s Google’s job to keep you secure, is a
million times better than trying to learn to manage it yourself.
To change your email address, take the following steps:
1. Pick a new email provider, and set up a new account.
2. Set up email forwarding at the old email address.
3. Set up an “I’ve moved” autoresponse at the old email
4. Import your old email, and transfer your address book,
calendars, any linked documents, and so on.
5. Make a list of accounts to update, including banks, payment
accounts, social media, mailing lists, and so on.
6. Email all your contacts with your new email address.
7. Shut down your old email after six months.
44 C h a pt e r 3
I’ll walk you through each step in this section, so let’s
jump right in.
Choose a New Home
Which new email provider you choose will depend on what
features you’d like the new service to have, whom you’ll trust
more than the old guys, and what you want in the new address
itself. For instance, a Google address will have
after the name you pick, but Gmail will also let you make emails
appear to come from a completely different email address, one
that you specify (from a different account that you import or
from an alias that you set up in Gmail).
Here are a few email providers to consider:
• Gmail
• Microsoft Outlook
• Yahoo! Mail
• iCloud
• Hushmail
• Zoho Mail
Whatever your needs, make sure you can access your
new email service from anywhere, including any computer,
your phone, and so on. Don’t be tempted to use an address
you were given by a school, a workplace, an organization, or
an Internet service provider (ISP). These services aren’t a
long-term solution, and you definitely won’t be as safe from
malicious hackers as you would be if you used email hosted
by Microsoft Outlook or Gmail.
Note When setting up an email address, remember that bigger
companies generally care more about their email security
reputation than do smaller organizations and often have
more battle-tested and up-to-date security.
you got hacked 45
When selecting an email provider, choose a major company
that offers web-based email, and make sure it uses Secure
Sockets Layer (SSL) to send email securely. SSL establishes an
encrypted link between a web server and a browser, creating
a secure connection. You can tell when a website uses SSL
because the address bar (where the URL appears) will show
https instead of http. If a service doesn’t use SSL, it’s not taking your security seriously at all.
That said, there are downsides to using free, browser-based
email services. The main problem is that certain changes,
like redesigns, can screw up your entire inbox or worse. For
example, what if Google decides to rearrange your address
book because it thinks it knows what you need better than
you do? If you pay for an email service and have your own
domain name, you can switch providers and still own your
stuff if something goes wrong.
And now a word about email addresses: pick one that
will stand the test of time! If you pick one with a date in it,
or something silly, people may not take you seriously when
you send email about something serious. (For example, if you
send an email asking to have revenge porn removed from an
address that tells the sender you’re sexkitten2009, you might
not get the response you were looking for.)
Once you settle on a service and choose an address, it’s
time to start using your new email.
Set Up Forwarding
When changing email providers, find out if your current email
provider will allow your old address to forward mail to the new
one. That way, you won’t have to keep logging in to your old
account to check your mail. If your old provider doesn’t forward, don’t panic: just set a reminder to check your old email
address every day for a week, then twice a week for a month,
and then twice a month until your six-month transition is over.
46 C h a pt e r 3
Whether you forward your email or not, set up an autoresponder (also called a vacation responder or autoreply) at your
old address. Just write a short message telling senders that
your email has changed and what the new address is. Every
time anyone emails you, they’ll get a reminder to update your
email address. But be sure to email your contacts directly,
too, to let them know that your email address has changed.
Move In
Next, transfer your address book to your new account, or
you’ll have to start collecting friends’ email addresses all over
again. You’ll usually find that you can easily migrate your
old contacts and emails to your new email address. Look for
tutorials online that are specific to your old email service and
the one you’re moving to. Email services try to make it easy
for you to move in and difficult for you to leave, so the one who
wants your business usually has workarounds for the guy who
won’t let you go. If your new service sets up email forwarding
automatically, you don’t even need to worry about setting up
forwarding at the old account.
No matter what, definitely copy (back up) all your emails
and your address book from your old account, just in case
something goes wonky when you move them. Each email
provider has slightly different back-up or download steps, so
search online for the ones specific to your situation.
Some email transitions are really easy: for example, Outlook
lets you migrate everything over from Gmail with just a few
clicks. Go to Settings and look at Accounts in both services.
Go into your old email account, and look for the setting to
establish forwarding and create autoresponses (such as vacation responses) to start sending mail to your new address.
In your new email account, find where it lets you check mail
from or add other accounts to start having your old account’s
email routed to your new address.
you got hacked 47
Adding an account should import all of your old email into
your new account, and you’ll start to get any new emails that
come through. Once you’re happy with all your new email
account settings, turn your attention to your other online
Update Your Accounts
Log in to each of your online accounts, from Facebook to your
bank, and update your email address. This process will probably be the biggest chore of all, so be systematic: make a list
and go through the accounts, one by one.
To help create your list, search your old email account
for terms like subscribe, account, and login. If you use a
password manager like 1Password, you actually have a list
of sites already, tied to your passwords. (And don’t forget to
update the information about your new email address in your
password manager!)
Tell Everyone
Now use your new address to send an email to everyone in
your address book, including friends, relatives, and business
and school associates, telling them your new address. Say
something like this:
Hi there. This is my new email address, and I’ll be using it from
now on. Please update your address book. Thank you!
Send the message to yourself (again, with the new address)
and bcc everyone else on your list. The bcc part is extremely
important. If you don’t put everyone in the bcc field, all recipients (that’s everyone in your address book!) will see everyone
else’s email addresses, and if anyone hits “reply to all,” they’ll
email the other recipients, too. Most people think this is a
huge invasion of privacy, and it will make almost everyone
really mad at you.
48 C h a pt e r 3
Now enjoy your new email address. Hopefully it’s a with
better service than the one you left. Leaving an old, outdated,
or problematic service behind can help you feel safer and more
in control, as well as give you the great feeling of moving on.
In the next chapter, I’ll explore more about why it can feel
good to start fresh with a new service.
“I learned early that I had to work harder than the white kids
and harder than the boys.” —Q u e e n L a t i f a h
4. female
The term “driving while black” refers to the fact that AfricanAmerican drivers in the United States are much more likely
than white people to get pulled over or otherwise singled out by
authorities simply on the basis of suspicion or just for harassment. The expression’s been adapted to refer to similar forms
of prejudice, like “flying while Muslim,” and I think there needs
to be a related term: “online while female.” Women are more
likely than men to be singled out online for stalking, harassment, invasions of privacy, and threats of physical violence.
When a woman gets hacked, she’s got a lot more to lose,
and if Mat Honan were a woman, you can be almost certain
that his experience of getting severely hacked would have
been different. Not only would a girl go through everything
50 C h a pt e r 4
Honan experienced, but on top of all that, she would also be
subjected to gender targeting and all the ugly stuff that goes
along with it.
Think about your intimate photos of yourself, ranging from
swimsuit shots and selfies with cleavage to the photos and
videos that are meant only for the eyes of a person you trust.
Such photos, in the hands of someone who doesn’t care about
you or your safety (or worse, someone who gets off on hurting
women), are disastrous, no matter how proud you are of your
body, how sex-positive you may be, or how comfortable you
feel with being sexy and strong at the same time.
In this chapter, I’ll show you how to take charge of a situation in which your private content has been posted online
maliciously or an attacker has otherwise attempted to compromise your reputation. This happens to people of all genders,
but not as much as it happens to girls. Our gender makes us
targets. Being “online while female” isn’t fair, but it’s a fact.
Here’s how you can fight back.
R ecov er i ng f rom H a r a ssm e n t
When someone takes your personal photos and posts them
online, it’s not a joke. It’s harassment and a (very) personal
attack. Yet some people will try to make you feel like this kind
of attack is somehow your fault. Don’t ever—ever—listen to
anyone who tells you that just because you’re a girl, you’re
“asking for it” online (or offline). Some people will say that you
shouldn’t take nude selfies at all if you don’t want them to be
misused, as if taking a photo of yourself naked is some twisted
way of asking to be punished for it. But we don’t deserve to
lose our jobs, our friends, custody of our kids, our personal
safety, our emotional well-being, or our mental health for
doing what hundreds of celebrities do on Twitter every week
(or what a million creepy dudes do on Twitter every day with
their own dick pics).
female trouble 51
Telling a victim, “you shouldn’t have done it” or “what did
you expect?” is pointless, unfair, stupid, and just plain wrong.
Instead of blaming and shaming, how about some information
you can really use to help you make the decisions that are
right for you? I’ll equip you with tools to mitigate, minimize,
and possibly even avoid damage if something goes wrong.
Do this when you’re targeted:
• Stay calm online, don’t blame yourself, and take steps
to strengthen your mental and emotional health in real
life. Eat, sleep, and seek support from friends who care
about you or even from a skilled therapist. (Find a list of
therapists who “get” tech issues at http://smartprivacy​
• Keep your social media accounts open, instead of quitting the
Internet. They’ll be valuable tools later. It’s okay to change
your account settings to private if you prefer. Some sites
(such as Twitter) have simple on/off-style privacy settings,
and others (like Facebook) have more-nuanced options for
limiting access to your profile. And don’t be afraid to be
heavy-handed with blocking profiles that bother you: block
anyone, anytime, and you’ll feel much better for doing so.
• File a police report to put the harassment on the record,
but don’t expect the police to do anything.
• Talk to a lawyer if you want to explore the possibility of pursuing legal action. Find a directory at http://
• Find all the websites, social media accounts, and forums
containing your private images and videos.
• Make detailed records of everything you find: take screencaps; for each image, note the date and time of posting
and the screen name of the person that posted it; download
all the photos you find (they have hidden data on them);
and save everything in a folder.
52 C h a pt e r 4
• Get the images taken down (see “Getting Your Private
Photos Offline” on page 59).
• Consider paying a reputation service to help reduce the harm.
Online harassment increases your vulnerability to sexual
violence, can cause real emotional harm, and can ruin your
reputation. This harassment sends the message that women
are inferior, sexual objects. It communicates to the world
that it’s okay to devalue us and invites others to participate
in harassing, humiliating, and hurting us.
There are so many real-life examples of all the types of
harm I’ve described that going into detail would fill this book
and so many more. (It would be the start of the most horrifying and depressing library in the world.) There are dozens
of news stories about schoolteachers who’ve lost their jobs
after their nude or swimsuit photos were posted online. Take,
for example, the Christian schoolteacher who lost her job in
2013 after her nude selfies were stolen from her phone and
linked with her name. In the same year, a female firefighter
in Manchester (UK) lost her job for posing in lingerie for
a shutter­bug friend—even though her male firefighter coworkers had posed for racy firemen calendars.
The harm is real. In fact, the psychological and emotional
damage of violating a girl’s privacy like this can kill her. In
2013, a 17-year-old girl in Brazil committed suicide after a
video of her being sexual with two friends was posted online;
she was depressed and angry for the month leading up to her
suicide. That same year, a California girl killed herself after
a video of her being raped while passed out was sent around
at her high school. And countless girls have been blackmailed
and threatened into having sex or paying money to avoid the
online publication of private images and videos. That’s just
what happened to Miss Teen USA in 2013 when her webcam
was hacked.
female trouble 53
But the negative emotions won’t last forever, and there
are ways to cope.
When Will It Stop?
Having your privacy violated in ways that are specific to being
a girl is extremely painful. It feels so personal, so awful, and
so unfair—because it is. Online privacy violations can cause
all the same reactions an in-person violation would.
Here are things you might feel:
• Anxiety and fear
• Detachment, as if you’re an outsider to your own life
• Intense distress
• Unsafe, even when it makes no sense to feel this way
• Irritability
• Anger
• Guilt, shame, and self-blame
• Mistrust and betrayal
• Depression and hopelessness
• Alienation and loneliness
• Embarrassment and exposure
And here are some things you might experience:
• Intrusive, upsetting thoughts or memories that can come
on suddenly
• Unreliable memory, such as difficulty remembering exact
• Nightmares and insomnia
• Physical reactions such as a pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, or sweating
54 C h a pt e r 4
• Difficulty concentrating
• Avoidance of people, events, or situations
It’s okay to feel and experience all these things—they’re
normal reactions. If you’re a victim of any kind of violation,
make sure you show this list to the people who care about you
so they know what you’re going through. Reading the list will
give them an idea of what’s going on if you get depressed, snap
at them out of the blue, or toss and turn in bed. It’ll also help
people understand so they can give you the support and room
you need to conquer this madness and, finally, heal.
These feelings are like storms; they come in and rage for
a while, and they go back out to sea again. You may only feel
some of the things mentioned here, or you may feel all of them.
You may even feel confusing things sometimes, and many girls
who’ve been violated (whether online or in real life) find they
repeatedly cycle through these feelings.
These feelings are a lot like grief. Sometimes, just when
you feel like you’re doing okay, one trigger will bring back
that feeling in your chest or your stomach, and the emotional
spiral begins again. You might feel like it will never end, but
it will. The annoying part is that there won’t be one single
moment when the way you feel inside just ends. But one day,
you’ll realize that you haven’t felt upset in a long time, and
that’s when you’ll know you’re through it.
Until then, here are some ways to deal with those feelings.
Staying Strong
Without My Consent (, a
resource for legal options regarding stalking, revenge porn,
and online harassment, describes steps you can take on the
road to emotional recovery:
Taking active, practical steps to address the problem can help.
Consulting with an attorney or law enforcement officers is important if someone has threatened you. It’s also important to see what
female trouble 55
practical and legal steps you can take to combat the invasion of your
privacy. Although a formal complaint process may increase your
feelings of stress while it is ongoing, this kind of active coping with
the situation helps some people feel better more quickly.
Addressing your feelings is important, too. Talking to people who
care about you can help, as can talking to a counselor or therapist.
Joining a support group may also comfort you and allow you to
feel safer. Keeping a journal where you put your feelings into words
also works for some people.
Doing things every day—especially small things—that make
you feel good (for example, exercising, experiencing natural beauty,
gardening) is important, as is finding a way to relax. Many people
also find religious or spiritual practices help them cope with these
kinds of painful experiences. Try not to rely on drugs, alcohol, or
caffeine, as these substances can make things worse.
If the way you feel just won’t let up, and if it gets in the
way of your important relationships, jeopardizes your job or
schoolwork, or keeps you from functioning normally (especially
if you feel like you just can’t take it any longer), reach out to
someone who will help you weather your storms until they’re
gone. Find someone to talk to who has experience working with
trauma, harassment, or abuse. If you want some psychological
support, these resources are great:
• Confidential online counseling,
therapy, and assessments
• American Psychological Association, Psychology
Help Center:
• Reputable, secure website and network
where you can talk to a therapist online
• National Association of Social Workers: Tips on finding a therapist and resource links; http://helpstartshere​
• American Counseling Association: Counselor and
therapist locators;
56 C h a pt e r 4
• Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: Sexual
assault and sexual trauma help resources; http://rainn​
.org/get-help/ or 1.800.656.HOPE [4673]
• Tech Savvy Therapists: A growing resource of therapists
who “get” issues surrounding technology and online problems; some will do online sessions; http://smartprivacy​
What’s most important is that you find someone you feel
safe enough with to talk about what’s happened and what
you’re going through. As soon as you feel ready, though, it’s
time to take back control of your personal content and online
image from the ones who hurt you.
Figh ti ng B ack
You should know a few facts about getting your private photos
and videos removed from a website or taken out of the public
eye. First, you can probably do it; second, there are most likely
fewer of them out there than you think; and third, this whole
awful experience will pass like a bad storm. Don’t let the situation get to you, and don’t give up. You’re going to win, so focus
on staying strong. Keep records on everything you find and
keep making content online, but manage your expectations:
while there are more resources out there than ever before,
you’ll find that some options are flat-out inadequate.
Navigating the Legal System
There are a few legal paths to justice, but no, you probably
can’t successfully sue a website where someone else has posted
photos of you. Section 230 of the Communications Decency
Act protects websites from legal liability arising from most
content uploaded by their users. Some women have tried to
sue websites, and they’ve almost all lost (except for one case
female trouble 57
in which a Yahoo! representative said the company would take
something down and then broke that promise).
The laws around the publication of intimate and private
photos online without the subject’s consent are a mess. The
rules themselves and the results you can obtain differ from
country to country and from state to state in the United
States, and even between civil and criminal federal laws. It’s
easy to feel overwhelmed, but there are websites to help you
understand what you can and can’t do, such as Without My
Consent ( and End Revenge
Porn ( Make sure you talk to
at least three lawyers before making a decision about how
to move forward. Choose one who doesn’t make you feel bad,
ashamed, or like any of this is your fault.
If you’re in the United States, ask your lawyer about the
different angles you might consider pursuing, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, stalking,
breach of contract, and invasion of privacy claims.
And keep this in mind: many women end up not being
able to use the legal system. It’s extremely expensive, it draws
more attention to you, it’s incredibly brutal for your emotional
state, and it will reveal your identity even further. Often, the
legal system can’t even do that much to help you. (The deck is
also stacked against you in court if your attacker is broke; you
won’t be able to get damages from someone who has no money.)
But you can accomplish some things through the legal
system. In addition to awarding monetary damages, courts
can provide injunctive relief (court orders) that can require
your attacker to stop doing something. Depending on the laws
you’re dealing with, you might be able to get a court order that
requires the attacker to stop posting images or videos or to
take down images that have already been posted.
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Getting a Restraining Order
If you think you might be in physical danger from the attacker
posting your private images or information, get a restraining
order. Even if you don’t think it will work, you need one on
record if you’re seriously afraid for your safety.
You can get a civil restraining order on your own, though a
lawyer will make the process easier. Even if the court doesn’t
grant your request, it will document that you’re having serious
problems with someone harassing you. If you need to build
a bigger case later, that paper trail will be critical. Because
court proceedings are public records, your filing will also put
a dent in your attacker’s reputation.
Here’s my story. I was cyberstalked, threatened, abused,
and harassed online by two creeps (a man and a woman who
met each other while attacking me) for over a year. They
did this on every website where I had a public social media
account, on websites that mentioned me, on news websites that
published my work, and anywhere friends posted photos with
me. They even created blogs to harass me and post private
information about me online. For better or for worse, they used
people-finder websites to source their personal information
about me, and most of it was incorrect.
Though they lived in different states, they conspired (unsuccessfully) to get my social media accounts taken away and
to post as much personal information about me as possible in
blog post comments and photo comments. They even edited
fake information into the Wikipedia page about me. They
emailed threats directly to me, and they bragged online about
stalking me. One of the stalkers told an email list that I was
no longer on the list thanks to their stalking and harassment
and that someone should take away my car. Shortly afterward
my car was vandalized—twice.
When I filed for a restraining order against both of them,
they published the restraining order filing to the Wikipedia
female trouble 59
page about me—with my address on it. It was 2007: the
judge who oversaw the case said he didn’t understand how a
restraining order could apply to the Internet, and he didn’t
grant the order against my abusers on this technical point. I
was among the first women to seek a legal path to justice for
online harassment (a major reason why I’m on the advisory
board for Without My Consent.) At least the judge didn’t deny
the need for both restraining orders, so he didn’t dismiss them,
and he ordered the filings kept open so I could reapply later.
Thankfully, times have changed, and judges now understand the harm and damage that online abusers can do. But
even though I had a judge who didn’t get it, the restraining
order filing entered my abusers’ names on police records. It
also provided me with police reports that documented their
stalking, harassment, and abuse. Those police files came in
handy when I needed to protect myself from them again later
and when I requested removal of my personal, private information from people-finder websites.
In California, if the person threatening you is your current
or former lover, you can ask for a domestic violence restraining order. This order may prohibit the online attacker from
coming within a certain distance of you, your home, and your
workplace. Depending on exactly what the order says, the
police might be able to arrest the online attacker if they violate
the order offline.
Even once you take action against your harasser, however,
there’s still work to be done: it’s time to get your personal
content out of the public eye and polish your reputation back
to its original shine.
Ge tti ng You r Pr i vat e Photos Of f l i n e
Having something removed doesn’t mean it’s actually gone.
Many sites and apps keep things on their servers, and as of
this writing, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But you
60 C h a pt e r 4
can still get photos and videos out of the public eye. They’ll
fade quickly from memory, especially from the memory of
search engines.
Getting content off sites and out of search results is like
playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. One thing pops up, you deal
with it, and then another thing pops up, and you have to
deal with that. The process is annoying and exhausting. But
you’ll notice that it comes in waves, and each wave is smaller
until, eventually, the whole thing fades away.
Believe it or not, you can make it fade away faster by
increasing your online presence—making yourself more visible. In fact, a primary step in dealing with revenge porn or
any other kinds of unwanted online content about you is not
to delete your social media accounts. Don’t disappear from the
Internet! Instead, make as much noise as possible to drown
out the search results you want to eliminate.
If you remove your social media accounts, your blog or
blog posts, or your normal online presence, you’ll allow the
bad content to gradually replace any good search results you
had going in the first place. It’s okay to change your account
settings to private for a while or close comments on posts and
photos to reduce the stress—but stand your ground. Showing
the online world who you really are—with dignity—is part of
how you’ll fight fire with fire.
Doing It Yourself
It’s going to feel horrible, but you’ll probably need to go find
the images or videos and get them taken down yourself. The
police won’t do it, and you can do the most damage control
if you’re the only one who knows what was put online, and
where it is. You’ll need to find all images and videos and send
each website and its host a takedown request that asks sites
to remove your content.
female trouble 61
Before you start, reach out to someone for support like
your sister, a very close friend, or—even better—a team.
Think about who makes you feel protected, who in your life has
reminded you that you’re powerful, who makes you feel like who
you really are, and who you’d pick to put on your own team of
superheroes. Have someone who loves and supports you walk
through the steps with you, because it’s hard to stay organized
when it feels like the Internet is your enemy. Have them present
with you as you document and request content removal. Sure,
you could do it alone, but it will help to have someone holding
your hand—someone who knows and believes in you.
With your support system in place, start tracking down
content for removal. Here are some tips:
• Make an evidence folder.
• List the locations of the private online content that you
know about, including each website address and the “report
abuse” or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) information for the website. (You might find this information
in the website’s terms of service, its privacy policy, or a
separate DMCA policy.)
• Take screenshots and download copies of the photos from
each website; you’re collecting evidence.
• Find more content using Google and its reverse image
search. Use reverse image search to look for the photos
you know are being used against you. In addition, image
search your icon/avatar photos to see if they’re being used
without your consent anywhere else. To find this function,
look in Google’s search bar for the little gray camera icon,
click it, and then follow the instructions.
• Do a regular Google search for image filenames, your
phone number, the name and aliases of your harasser,
and any other words or usernames associated with the
images and posts.
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• Take screenshots and download copies of the photos from
the website.
• Create a Google alert for your name, your email address,
and any unique names associated with the images or
videos being posted about you (see “Eight Privacy Tips to
Use Right Now” on page 4).
Make a document with all of the information you have
about the person who’s attacking you and posting your private
images and information online. Now you can file your police
report. But don’t delete anything; you’re still going to need it.
Next, start getting things taken down. Begin with a general
removal request, even if you don’t own the copyright to the
image. Each website hosting the content will have its own form
or contact procedure; again, look for the website’s DMCA section. If you do own the copyright to the content and the website
doesn’t respond or won’t take your images and videos down,
you can submit an online copyright infringement claim form
for each search engine (find forms at
onlinesp/agenta.pdf). Each search engine must give the person
who posted the images a few days to file a counterclaim. But
to file a counterclaim, they have to reveal their real identity.
You can also escalate to a DMCA takedown, under the
right circumstances. First, use a site like http://whoishosting to learn who the website’s host is. Contact each
website’s administrator and ask them to remove the videos
or images. If you created the images or you own the rights
to them, then you own the copyright, and you should ask for
removal with a DMCA request. A DMCA request can be used
when the images and videos are your original property, and
an estimated 80 percent of private photos and videos that girls
want removed is content they own. (Just be sure to only issue
a takedown request if you own the copyright to the content.
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If you misrepresent that you own the rights to an image or if
anything else you say in your DMCA is incorrect, you can get
in a lot of legal trouble—including a possible lawsuit under
the DMCA.)
If you have a lawyer, run your DMCA takedown request
by them. Some women use services like DMCA Defender, but
make sure you read reviews or talk to others who have used
these services before you trust them with your very private
problem. You can find DMCA letter templates online, and
there is one on page 147 of the Resources section.
Most websites with any adult content will have a
DMCA-specific email address or a link for DMCA takedown
requests in the Contact Us area of the website. When the
website doesn’t have one, send your takedown request via
email to [email protected]<website>.com, [email protected]<website>.com, and
[email protected]<website>.com, and send a physical copy to any address
you can find for the website. One of those email addresses or
the snail mail address should reach a real person.
If You’re a Minor
If you’re a minor in your country (under the legal age of consent,
which is 18 in the United States), you’ll have an easier time
getting naked or sexual photos and videos removed. When you
follow the steps in this chapter for getting things taken down,
make sure to tell them you’re a minor. But if you’re even a
day older than the age of consent, don’t claim to be a minor;
if you’re caught lying, the website owner might get angry
with you and make things worse. And if you’re pursuing legal
action, misrepresenting yourself could count against you in
other ways. (Ask your lawyer if anything like this comes up,
because they can tell you what the laws are for the location
you’re taking legal action in.)
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When you’re a minor, a lot of social media sites will really
rush to get your content offline. In some locations, you may
have the law on your side for nonnude and nonsexual posts
and photos, as long as they contain something that belongs to
you. A 2015 law in California even states that websites and
apps have to let people under 18 take their stuff down.
Outsourcing the Work
Another option is a reputation service. Reputation services
find and address negative mentions of you online by deleting
them or bumping them to somewhere they’ll be less visible. The
biggest business doing reputation cleanup is Reputation​.com
(formerly Reputation Defender). Again, be sure to read reviews
of the service you’re considering to see what its customers have
to say before you sign up and hand over your money.
If you use a reputation service, make sure it’s actually
reputable. If the service is attached to, related to, or recommended by one of the sites where you’ve found private photos
you didn’t give someone permission to post, don’t use it! It’s
probably a scam.
The cost of help from a reputation service varies a lot.
It can be expensive if you have a stalker—or more than one
stalker—who has been bothering you for a long time. For
example, one man paid more than $10,000 to
scrub hateful posts from his online footprint. (His girlfriend
was the victim of online harassment, and when they started
dating, her attacker started targeting him as well.) Yearly
basic services for individuals start at around $5,000, and the
company will make a plan to fit your situation. Remember that
its goal is getting your money, though it does have systems,
knowledge, access, and resources unavailable to you otherwise.
You’ll notice that sites like do things
that you can also do yourself, such as create positive content
about you to push negative results off of top search pages.
female trouble 65
(This is another reason not to delete your social profiles, and
why you should be creating positive content about yourself,
too.) But even huge companies like can only
do so much, so don’t expect any promises of “gone forever” to
come true, because it’s usually not 100 percent possible.
Still, for the guy who paid 10 grand to get rid of his girlfriend’s stalker, managed to push the torrent
of hate to page 27 of a Google search, and most search users
don’t go past the first page.
Also consider outsourcing tasks to freelancers around
the world; they can do things you dread, often cheaply. For
instance, you might use sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
(,, Remote
Staff (,, and so on
to hire someone to check websites to make sure that content
is removed. Just make sure to stipulate confidentiality and
anonymity. Also, warn whomever you hire that there may be
offensive content involved so they’re not surprised.
Whether you use a reputation service, clean up the mess
yourself, or hire freelancers, I suggest you still use the services
of privacy companies such as Abine (,
which remove your private information from people-search
websites. These services have already done the legwork, and
they know their way around privacy-violating websites of all
stripes and what websites are required to do under the law.
Also, sites like Abine will go after privacy-violating websites
until they comply.
Hiring a privacy company will probably also boost your
mental health: it feels good knowing someone else is taking
care of it, and you won’t get bogged down or overwhelmed
by frustration with the workload, or have to see all of that
offensive stuff over and over again.
66 C h a pt e r 4
Pr e v e n tati v e M a i n t e na nce
When managing your reputation online, create a system to
manage all of the information you gather so you don’t lose
track of any important details. This will also leave you with an
organized and complete file to hand over to your lawyer, law
enforcement, a court, or any other authorities along the way.
A spreadsheet is a good tool for tracking the information.
For example, if your attacker contacts you on the phone or
harasses you on social media, add an item for that and a
column for the date and time of harassment, in addition to
screencapping and writing down everything. Sometimes your
attacker’s username or screen name will be a pseudonym (a
fake name). Collect all of it, and you’ll be able to spot patterns.
Here are some columns to add to your spreadsheet:
• Actions (anything your attacker has done, such as “posted
photo,” “posted video,” “left comment,” “made blog post,”
or “contacted me”)
• The date the action happened
• The date you found out what the attacker had done
• Where the action took place (or the URL where it can be
• Any screen names or usernames associated with the posting, even if you know the attacker is using a pseudonym
• The name of the folder where you put copies and screencaps of the evidence
• Contact information for the website where the action took
place, including its DMCA email address
• The date you sent a DMCA takedown notice
• The date the website responded and what the response was
female trouble 67
Each situation is unique, and you might need to add columns for other information. For instance, if the website doesn’t
take your photo down and you decide to send a takedown notice
to the website host, add the host’s contact information, date
of contact, and response.
Unfortunately, getting harassed, attacked, smeared, or
worse online isn’t the only damage an online privacy violation
can do. What happens if someone uses your personal information to steal your identity? Read on, and I’ll explain how to
combat such a situation—and prevent it from happening in
the first place.
“Sometimes you need to get hit in the head to realize that you’re
in a fight.” —M i c h a e l J o r d a n
5. identity
Imagine that one day you wake up and find that someone has
opened a credit card in your name and charged $10,000 to it.
Or used your health insurance. Or maybe drained your bank
account, hacked into your email and sent spam to everyone
in your address book, and removed all your files in iCloud.
Identity theft is a waking nightmare—and it becomes a real
horror movie when you realize that some dude, somewhere,
knows where you live.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal
information and uses it without your permission. They do this
by collecting pieces of information about you from different
sources and putting it together, like a dossier. Identity theft is
a serious crime that can wreak havoc on your finances, credit
70 C h a pt e r 5
history, and reputation, and it can take time, money, and
patience to resolve. Once identity thieves have your personal
information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges
on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, get medical
treatment on your health insurance . . . Basically, they can
do anything you could do.
In this chapter, I’ll show you how to deal with identity theft
if it happens—specifically, how to quickly limit the damage
and recover your life—and how to prevent it from happening
in the first place.
Identity thieves are thinking about how to steal identities
all the time, and they typically automate the technical parts,
like sending out phishing emails. American and Eastern
European crime syndicates are behind a lot of the world’s
identity theft, but there are a lot of small-time identity thieves,
too. These small-timers use illicit software programs, but they
also go through your garbage at home, survey your workplace,
and haunt the town dump. They may work—or pretend to
work—for legitimate companies, medical clinics, pharmacies,
or government agencies and use that cover to convince you
to reveal personal information. Some thieves contact you by
email or phone, pretending to represent an institution you
trust, and try to trick you into revealing personal information.
The good news is that more and more companies are aware
of the problem of identity theft. Unlike the women who had to
deal with this issue 10 years ago, at least you won’t need to
teach everyone you meet what the hell identity theft even is.
Sign s of I de n tit y T h e f t
If you are a victim of identity theft, you will likely find out
about it the hard way: you might get a letter from the IRS
saying you have a tax problem, your credit card might max
out when you haven’t been using it much, or you may find that
identity theft 71
your bank account is empty the next time you write a check or
try to use your debit card. Here are some things to look out for:
• Your credit card suddenly stops working or has weird
• You can’t withdraw your money from an ATM.
• Your bank statement shows withdrawals that aren’t yours.
• You stop getting your bills or other important mail.
• A company or store tells you that your information has
been compromised in a data breach.
• You receive emails about financial, medical, or shopping
accounts you didn’t set up.
• Your bank, credit card, or other financial service notifies
you of a password reset that you didn’t initiate.
• Your checks bounce, or a store suddenly won’t take them.
• Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
• You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit
• Doctors bill you for services you didn’t use.
• Your health insurance tells you that you’ve reached your
benefits limit, but you know you haven’t.
• A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records
show a condition you don’t have.
• The IRS tells you that multiple tax returns were filed in
your name or that you owe taxes on income from a job you
don’t have.
Even if none of these signs is apparent, you should always
be on alert. Keep an eye on your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. If you suspect that your wallet,
72 C h a pt e r 5
Social Security card, or other personal or financial information
has been lost or stolen, act immediately.
Ru n, Don ’ t Wa l k
If you suspect identity theft, take action immediately. Here’s
what you need to do:
• Freeze all compromised accounts.
• Place a fraud alert on your credit.
• Order your credit reports and note anything that is
• Create an Identity Theft Report with the FTC (you’ll need
this to fix your credit reports and to dispute charges).
• Use your credit reports and your Identity Theft Report to
fix your credit reports and get information about the thief.
• Call the appropriate authorities (like the IRS if your Social
Security number has been compromised).
• Alert businesses involved in fraudulent charges.
Place a Fraud Alert
Placing a fraud alert is free, and it means that if the identity
thief tries to open accounts in your name, the credit companies
will call you. To place a fraud alert, call one of the three credit
bureaus: Equifax, 1.800.525.6285; Experian, 1.888.397.3742;
or TransUnion, 1.800.680.7289. (You only need to call one,
because each is required to contact the others for you, but be
sure to confirm that they will do so.) Tell the person on the
phone that you are the victim of identity theft.
Mark your calendar for 90 days after the day you place a
fraud alert. The alert lasts for 90 days, and you should renew
it at least once.
identity theft 73
Order Free Credit Reports
Once you’ve placed a fraud alert, you should be able to order
free credit reports from the credit bureaus. Ask each company
to show only the last four digits of your Social Security number
on your report. When the reports come and you review them,
check everything. You may well find unauthorized charges or
accounts you didn’t create.
File an Identity Theft Report
You’ll find instructions for filing an Identity Theft Report on
the FTC’s website, but you’ll probably
have to file the report at http://ftccomplaintassistant​.gov/.
Click Identity Theft, and then click the link that applies to
you, such as Identity Theft: I am a victim of identity theft.
Someone has used my personal information.
If you need help filing an Identity Theft Report, call the
FTC at 1.877.IDTHEFT (1.877.438.4338). They should be able
to answer your questions and connect you with the right law
enforcement agencies. If the person who handles your call
can’t help you, hang up and try again. Maybe the next person
can help. (This is a government agency after all.)
Contact the IRS
If you think someone has used your Social Security number to
get a tax refund or land a job, or if you receive a notice from the
IRS indicating a problem, contact the IRS Identity Protection
Specialized Unit (1.800.908.4490). You should also submit IRS
Form 14039, ID Theft Affidavit (
f14039.pdf). Finally, alert the Social Security Administration
fraud hotline at 1.800.269.0271.
Alert Businesses
If you know which accounts the thief has used, contact each
affected business and jot down whom you contacted, when
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you contacted them, and the outcome of each contact. Speak
with someone in the fraud department, and then follow up in
writing, making sure to send correspondence by certified mail
with a return receipt. And as you contact these businesses,
request copies of any documents the identity thief used to open
a new account or make charges in your name. According to the
FTC website, “The business must send you free copies of the
records within 30 days of getting your request. For example, if
you dispute a debt on a credit card account you did not open,
ask for a copy of the application and applicant’s signature.”
Don ’ t L e t I t H a ppe n to You
Identity theft can wreak havoc in your life, and not knowing
who has your personal information or what they’re doing with
it can be really scary.
Sometimes when your identity is used without your consent, it will feel like your life has been violated. It has. If you’re
feeling scared, angry, confused, and overwhelmed, Chapter 4
offers tips on how to cope. But here are some tips to prevent
identity theft from happening in the first place.
Prevent Identity Theft
These are some simple measures you can take to reduce the
risk of your identity being stolen:
• Prevention tip #1: The minute you find out that a site or
company you use has been hacked, change all passwords
and information associated with your account, even if the
hacked company tells you you’re safe. Companies often
don’t inform the public of a security breach for a long time,
and they often don’t fully understand how badly they were
hacked. And they lie.
identity theft 75
• Prevention tip #2: Remove as much information as possible from people-finder websites: they’re a gold mine for
identity thieves and stalkers. Chapter 7 will tell you how.
• Prevention tip #3: Be stingy with personal information
like your phone number, address, and everything in the
red and yellow lists in Chapter 2.
• Prevention tip #4: Make sure that people aren’t looking
over your shoulder, or shoulder surfing, when you’re on
your phone or computer.
• Prevention tip #5: Don’t let information used for security
questions get out in the open. This includes things such as
your pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, your first
car’s model, the city you were born in, and so on.
Identity thieves don’t like to work too hard, and it’s often
said that online criminals typically go after the low-hanging
fruit (meaning the easiest things they can grab). Following
these prevention tips will keep you safely out of reach.
Avoid Phishing Attacks
Phishing is a technique that criminals often use to attempt
to steal your identity by tricking you into thinking that an
email, SMS, or even a phone call is from an organization or
company that you trust. Their goal is to dupe you into disclosing your personal information or login credentials when you
connect to what appears to be a legitimate website or data
collection form. Sometimes these sites or forms look surprisingly legitimate—like Facebook or Twitter; other times they’re
laughably bad. Some fake sites even display official-looking
federal law enforcement symbols claiming to be, for example,
the Federal Internet Enforcement Administration, and make
bizarre threats designed to scare you into clicking their links
or entering information!
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To reduce your chances of becoming a phishing statistic,
don’t open files, click links, or download programs sent to you
by strangers. For that matter, since a friend’s email account
may have been compromised, be wary when opening any
attachment or clicking any link that you’re not expecting or
that just doesn’t seem right. With malware attacks becoming
increasingly sophisticated, almost any file you open—even an
image file—could contaminate your computer with malicious
software. Therefore, it’s a good idea to make sure your email
is set up to only display images from email addresses you
have approved.
Security researcher Georgia Weidman writes:
If you didn’t order it and aren’t expecting it, then you can be 99.9%
sure it is a phishing attack. You can always contest any charges to
your credit card if and when they show up. Ignore it. If you aren’t
the type of person who can ignore it, go to the company’s website
not by clicking a link but by typing in the web address you know
and trust for that company.*
And let’s not forget text messages sent to your phone. But
it’s just text, right? How can a text message compromise your
phone? Clicking a link sent in a text can open a link in your
mobile browser, which in turn can install password-stealing
malware on your phone just as it might on your computer.
Mobile browsers are no more immune to phishing attacks
than your desktop browser is.
So if you get a text message that says you’ve won a $100
gift card to some store and you need to click a handy link to
log in to claim your prize, don’t do it. Once it’s on your phone,
the app can get access to any sensitive data stored on your
phone, or it might run malicious code to get additional access.
Bottom line: always question the source of incoming messages
that invite you to respond.
* Georgia Weidman, “The Basics of Security Awareness Aren’t Sinking In,” Infor­
mation Security Buzz, January 16, 2014,
identity theft 77
If Your Phone or Computer Is Stolen
The theft of a phone, tablet, or computer—or even just misplacing a device—puts your private information at risk, even
if the device is protected by a password. When this happens,
the first thing to do is change your passwords for the accounts
that are connected to that piece of hardware. Use a friend’s
phone or computer if necessary, and get to work ASAP.
You don’t necessarily have to change all of your key passwords, though. Think back to when you last used the device,
and try to remember if you might have been logged in to
your email, Facebook, Twitter app, or a shopping website
(like Amazon). Make a list, change the passwords for these
accounts immediately, and alert any credit card companies or
other payment options (like PayPal) that might be connected
to those accounts.
Install an Antitheft Tracking App
Unless your device is password protected or encrypted, or has
an antitheft tracking app installed that lets you wipe or lock
your device remotely, a thief may have access to everything
you left open.
Tracking and antitheft apps allow you to track your devices
remotely through an account on the app’s website, and they
give you a range of settings to activate when the device is lost
or stolen. There are plenty of apps available to download, so
choose the one that best suits you. Apple and Google both have
their own antitheft apps, but others are available, too—check
out Lookout, Kaspersky, McAfee, AVG, Where’s My Droid,
and Prey.
Prey is a great example of a tracking and antitheft app. It’s
free to download and super easy to set up. All good antitheft
apps should allow you to activate them remotely and send
you your device’s location when it’s not with you. The app
should also offer a way to camouflage itself so a thief won’t
78 C h a pt e r 5
know it’s an antitheft app. Prey disguises itself as a game,
for example. You should have the option to remotely lock and
wipe your device and have it ring, vibrate, or sound a siren
on command, and you should be able to control these features
easily by sending a text or by messaging the device through
a web interface.
Your app should also be able to take photos from the device’s
camera and upload them to your online account so you’ll not
only be able to see where your laptop or phone is but who has
it. Then you can give this information to the police.
Permanently Delete Information from Your Device
Computers, tablets, and phablets can all hold your personal
and financial information, including your passwords, account
numbers, addresses and phone numbers, contacts’ addresses
and phone numbers, medical information, tax returns, receipts,
files left behind by browsers and operating systems, and much
more. While all of that stuff is easy to save, it’s tricky to make
disappear, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do.
For instance, you might be selling your old laptop, upgrading
your phone, or loaning a device out, and you want to make
sure everything sensitive, like financial files, is wiped.
Unfortunately, even when you think you’ve deleted a file,
it’s not necessarily gone—bits and pieces of it remain on your
computer, and they can often be retrieved with a data-recovery
program. To remove data from a hard drive or your internal
device memory permanently, you have to wipe it.
You’ll find software tools to wipe hard drives online and
wherever computers are sold. These programs are generally
inexpensive, and some are even free. Some will erase the entire
disk or drive, while others will allow you to select which files or
folders to erase. Some overwrite or wipe the hard drive many
times (the more wipes, the better), while others overwrite it
only once.
identity theft 79
Before you clean a drive, phablet, or phone memory, save
any files you want to keep either online (to a service like
Dropbox) or to an external hard drive or flash drive. Then
use a program like Blancco ( to wipe or
overwrite the drive or the memory on your phone. If you’re
cleaning a phone, the phone should offer its own way to wipe
or reset it, but don’t forget to wipe the SD card too (or remove
it entirely). And if you’re wiping a phone, thoroughly check to
make sure that your email, texts, photos, and personal files
are really gone.
Finally, remove the SIM card, which might store your contacts, and the SD card, which contains files like your photos.
Now your device is really wiped clean.
“If I could edit Google Images, then I wouldn’t be as scared of
the Internet.” —C h l o ë S e v i g n y
6. how to share
It’s no secret that Yelp, Facebook, Google, and map apps
know your current location, and you’re probably cool with that
because you want to use the services they provide in exchange.
In fact, you’re probably cool with sharing lots of information
with these apps because they do useful things with it.
However, even if it weren’t for Creepy Steve and your
frenemies, social media can be used to hurt you if you’re not
careful about what you share. Anything you post on Twitter,
Facebook, Google+, and other social media sites may be used to
disqualify your job application or discipline you as an employee,
and it can even be used as evidence in court.
Every social network and app is different, and social media
companies change their privacy settings (and usage rules) all
82 C h a pt e r 6
the time. That’s why it’s good to have a basic checklist at hand
when you start using a new account or app and when you
recheck its settings, which you should do often. This way, you
pay attention to what you’re sharing online and track those
privacy policies.
But remember: anything you put online can potentially
become public, no matter how tight your privacy controls are.
S oci a l M e di a Ch eck l ist
Our relationship with social sharing—photos, videos, status
updates, location check-ins, and more—changes as our lives
evolve. The way we feel about sharing something one day
may be totally different next week (or next year). At the same
time, the companies we use for sharing change, too, and their
privacy and sharing policies change with them, which sometimes leaves us exposed.
For all of these reasons, everyone should do a privacy checkup about every 90 days. Why every three months? Because
companies like Facebook change their policies more often than
that. Imagine if you opt to recheck your privacy only every six
months: that would mean you’re checking only twice a year.
An embarrassing photo could be sitting out there on a public
profile for half a year, and you wouldn’t even know it.
Do this first: view your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+
profiles as someone else. Then adjust your privacy settings.
Don’t panic if you see something you didn’t realize was public,
and don’t blame yourself for what these companies have done to
your privacy. What’s online doesn’t have to stay visible forever.
When you log back in to your account to adjust your privacy
levels, review settings like these:
• Control your visibility
• What does my profile look like?
• What happens if I share my photos on other sites?
how to share 83
• Who can see my photos or location?
• How to remove my images
• How to delete my profile
• Tagging
• Personalization
• Location
Sharing Only What You Want
When you review what you’ve already shared, or if you’re trying to decide what’s safe to share before you press Upload or
Share, consider the following:
• Posting photos and videos: When posting photos and
videos, think about what you’re doing in the image or video.
Are you drinking with friends? Is your mouth wide open
in an excited scream? Do you look exhausted or unkempt?
Does the image reveal details about your home, work,
credit card numbers, or vehicle? Is there a mailing address
printed on an envelope?
• Posting updates: When posting updates to your online
profiles, choose how you want to share that content every
time, whether that’s publicly, with friends, or only with
certain people.
• Posting comments: When commenting on posts by others,
pay attention to how you’re posting. Are you posting with
your real name? Does your comment reveal your name,
location, or anything else that could be used to figure out
private information?
• Likes, upvotes, and favorites: When you click Facebook’s
Like button, upvote a post, or favorite something, that
action will be reflected in your profile. Then visitors to
the item you favorited may see your picture and a link to
your profile.
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• Friending: When friending someone, ask yourself why
you’re friending them. Do you actually know them? Do you
trust them with your personal information or with access
to details about your friends and family?
• The content of your posts: When posting, never share
anything on your red or yellow lists (like your entire birth
date, address, or phone number) or news about a trip you’re
going to take (that you’ll be away from home).
To reduce your online profile even further and for even better control of what you share, also consider doing the following:
• Select privacy levels for connecting with others on Facebook,
including who can find you, who can send you friend
requests and messages, and who can post on your wall.
• Edit the privacy settings for existing photo albums and
videos to make sure that they’re being shared only as
publicly as you want them to be.
• Enable tag review.
• Disable settings like Suggest photos of me to friends and
Friends can check me in to places. Settings that automatically share things for you in the background can often
spring unwanted surprises, such as telling someone where
you are (or worse, where you live!) when you’d rather
have privacy, or sharing embarrassing or revealing photos
without your knowledge.
Do a check-in on the privacy and sharing settings for all
the apps and games on your phone, phablet, or tablet, too. A
lot of apps have default settings that benefit the company that
made them but make user privacy take a backseat.
One particularly problematic feature many apps have
is instant personalization. This means that an outside company has partnered with a website to merge data sets. Both
how to share 85
companies get access to data about you that they can monetize, and you get a combined and presumably more useful
experience. For example, a site like Pandora would know
your Facebook habits, and vice versa—and their advertisers
would, too.
The biggest site to implement instant personalization has
been Facebook, but other big social media sites have similar
options in their settings. For example, Twitter’s version of
this is in Settings4Personalization, with clear language that
explains that you’re letting Twitter track and record your
activity outside of Twitter. So-called personalization is a clever
way of making Facebook’s advertising partnerships with Yelp,
Pandora, and Microsoft seem like convenient features. And for
a number of Facebook users, this is true—it’s an easy way to
integrate these services with their Facebook accounts.
But it’s like having these sites spy on you wherever you
go, and you don’t have control over what they’re sharing about
you with each other. Options and settings that instantly personalize an app or service take away your control over your
personal information, shopping habits, and other things you
already have to fight to keep private. So turn them off, and
don’t fall for this attempt to trick you into trading privacy for
Online and approved friends have the most power over your
private information, if you let them see it. If you wouldn’t give
an online friend the keys to your house, keep them locked out
of your private life. And before you start friending anyone,
find out how to block users and unfriend people.
Also, don’t let anyone tag your posts without your permission. Review any check-in and tagging settings and be a tightass about it. The last time someone tagged you at a location and
posted photos of you, they were sharing your location online.
86 C h a pt e r 6
But I Ca n ’ t Gi v e U p Face book
(or I n stagr a m , or T w itt er ,
or Fou r S qua r e , or . . .)
It’s estimated that nearly one quarter of the Internet’s ads are
run on Facebook. Advertising and data-mining companies are
making billions scraping (collecting and analyzing) your personal data and selling it to any outside party that’s interested.
Companies that buy user information love Facebook because it
has the most valuable vaults of data ever assembled: not only
do you tell it everything you like, but it also knows what your
friends like, which is an amazing predictor of what you’ll like.
Social media sites do all they can to make sure the information they have about you is correct and complete, because
it makes the information about you worth more money. They
use your account data like your name, age, gender, email
addresses, and location (information you enter when you sign
up for services like Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, and so on)
to build your profile. Their many data trackers and ad agencies
(like DoubleClick, AdSense, and AdMob) use the data stored
on your computer and phone when you browse online, search
Google Maps, or shop to learn more about you so that they
can serve you better ads and make more money off you. Your
information is freely bought and sold unless you squeeze your
Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and other privacy settings tight.
If you simply shut down a profile but don’t delete it, it’s actually still there on the site’s computers. Unless you delete your
information, companies can still use your info, even if you
quit a site. If you’re going to quit a site and never go back,
always delete your profile—don’t just disable it.
Sometimes people online respond to concerns about social
media sites and privacy by saying that we should “just quit”
using Facebook (or other sites). But most businesses have
social media profiles, so their employees need to have profiles
how to share 87
on these sites, too. In other words, not using these sites simply
isn’t an option for people who want to be employed—or have a
social life or stay connected to family. Fortunately, you can put
limits on the information shared by social media sites. Here’s
how to do that with the two major ones: Facebook and Google+.
Quit Humpi ng M y L e g , Face book
Facebook is an awesome way to connect, but you need to make
sure you don’t share more than you mean to. Companies like
Facebook are always trying to get more info about you to make
your data more valuable to their advertisers, and they’ll say
anything to convince you to give up every little piece of personal
information. Fight it at every step, because this sharing isn’t
for your safety or benefit—it’s for their profits.
Because Facebook changes its privacy settings all the time,
it’s important to be more vigilant with Facebook than with
most places you may hang out. Start by going to Facebook’s
Privacy Settings and Tools page (
settings/?tab=privacy). As of this writing, you’ll find three
general sections: Who can see my stuff?, Who can contact me?,
and Who can look me up?
Begin by reviewing the settings in each of these sections
and carefully decide what you’d like to share and with whom:
• Public: What can people see on your profile? Check your
public profile to see what’s exposed to everyone. Most
people only share a profile image, general location, and
maybe school info or work history. It’s a good idea to make
anything else, especially photo albums and wall posts,
available to friends only.
• Friends: From the same Preview My Profile Facebook
page, you can type in any of your friends’ names and see
your profile exactly as they see it. This can help you manage what people on different lists can see.
88 C h a pt e r 6
• Friend lists: Is everyone on the right list? Double-check.
• Photos: Review all your photos and ones you’re tagged
in. Untag yourself and delete or ask to have any photos
deleted that you aren’t comfortable with.
• Apps: Facebook apps sometimes do sneaky, uncool things
when you’re not paying attention. Many spy on you and
sell your habits to companies you don’t know anything
about. Get rid of the ones you’re not using by looking in
your account settings.
A Facebook account comes with numerous privacy violations, and you should fix them before you use Facebook even
once. For one thing, Facebook will always ask you to add more
information so that it can “connect you to friends,” but you don’t
need to give up that information, ever. Don’t let Facebook get
more out of you than you want to give it. You can find your
friends without telling Facebook more than it needs to know.
In fact, you don’t need to have anything more in your
Facebook profile than a name, an email address, a birthday,
and a gender—and you can make it all up if you like. (You
may even want to give Facebook a version of this personal
information that is just for Facebook.) Everything else—like
schools you’ve attended, your jobs, your current city, and your
hometown—can stay blank. Facebook treats your name, photo,
gender, username, and school and job information as public
information, but only you should be able to decide if these
things should be public.
First off, change Who can see my stuff? to Friends, not
the dangerous default of Public. If you add things like Life
Events to your timeline, they’ll be public by default because
you have to set the privacy level for each one. You get to decide
who can send you friend requests or if you want your profile
to be searchable, and you can set all these options to private
if you like.
how to share 89
Furthermore, your choice of friends affects your privacy
on Facebook, so choose your friends wisely. Set Review posts
friends tag you in to On unless you want something embarrassing or too revealing to end up in front of everyone before
you can stop it. Do the same for Review tags people add to
your own posts.
Location Information in Photos
You can control whether or not your friends can tag you (telling Facebook and the public where you are in the process). If
you don’t want your location announced to the world, turn off
tagging in Facebook’s privacy settings.
The same goes for photo-sharing services like Flickr,
Instagram, Imgur, and so on. You should find privacy settings
in each that allow you to keep your photo’s geolocation data to
yourself. In Instagram, location is turned off by default, and
you can remove location data in old photos.
Be Smart About Checking In
Be smart about checking in on Facebook, Foursquare, or any
other app that tracks your location. Never check in at home,
and never check in at someone’s house or you’ll just make it
easy for a stalker to come find you right at that very moment
in a private place. Also, never tag a photo with a location at
someone’s house unless the person whose house it is tells
you that’s okay. And don’t forget to double-check your Fitbit
or other personal tracker settings to make sure they’re not
broadcasting information to the world that you don’t want
Creepy Steve to know.
C on t rol l i ng W h at You Sh a r e
w it h G oogl e a n d G oogl e +
Even if you haven’t directly signed up for Google+, if you
have an account with any Google site like YouTube, Blogger,
90 C h a pt e r 6
or Gmail, you have a Google profile and a Google+ account
because Google makes one for you. The Google Dashboard
shows everything that Google says it knows about you, or
at least the bits it will allow you to control. To view it, log
in to a Google account and then go here:
Managing Your Google+ Profile
Now that you’ve taken a look at the Google Dashboard, let’s
go deeper into how to manage what you share in that Google+
profile that you didn’t even know you had. Log in to Google+
by visiting, and then work your way
through the list below.
• Google+ public profile: To see what’s made public in your
Google+ profile, click Profile and change View profile
as to Public.
• Privacy settings: You’ll need to edit two sets of settings:
your Google+ privacy settings and your (general) Google
account privacy settings. To check your Google+ privacy
settings, click your icon (in the upper-right corner) and
then click Privacy.
To see a menu of the general account privacy settings,
sign in to your account and go to​
.com/. Read through each setting, and change anything
you don’t like.
• Photos: Check settings in,, and​
• Applications: Go to and
review which services you’ve authorized to connect to your
Google accounts.
how to share 91
• Settings and services: Finally, manage your overall
Google+ settings at
(You’ll find more useful information for managing and
securing your account at
Locking Down the Privacy Settings
on Your New Phone
Anytime you get a new phone from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile,
Sprint, or any other major carrier, that phone will set its
privacy settings in a way that makes your information most
salable to advertisers. So every time you get a new phone, the
first thing to do is to use a little privacy kung fu.
Don’t let the clerk at the phone store set everything up for
you lickety-split. You want control: slow them down so you
can decide for yourself if you want Google or AT&T to know
and report your location all the time. It just takes a second to
interrupt them and tell them to let you see each screen and
that you want to decide for yourself. It’s also okay to ask them
to tell you what each thing you say yes or no to means. If you
can’t get an answer you understand, that’s a red flag: decline
whatever the permission is until you know what you’re agreeing to. You may not be able to complete the setup of your new
phone if you decline some services, so make a note whenever
a company won’t let you opt out. That way, you’ll know where
the weak spots are in your privacy-protection armor so you
can seal them up later.
When your phone gets an update with the latest firmware
(the software that runs on the phone), set a PIN or password
to prevent just anyone from unlocking it.
Be careful with the apps you install. Even apps from the
largest companies or the most trusted app stores sometimes
do really stupid and dangerous things with your privacy.
92 C h a pt e r 6
Additionally, many apps do things they don’t need to do, like
track your location or access to your contacts. Chances are,
many apps on your phone—from dictionaries to games—are
tracking your location without your knowledge.
Open your camera app, and make sure location reporting
is turned off. Then open your social media apps (Facebook,
Twitter, and so on), and make sure location sharing is off
there, too. You don’t want some creep to see where you live
because you took your first photo with your brand-new phone
at home.
Whenever you install a new app or update, instantly open
that app’s settings to see what you find. Look for items that
are set to public, and make them private if possible. If you
can’t make them private, consider not using the app at all.
And be sure to double-check any location and check-in settings. Don’t let any app—or your friends—tell the world (or
your friends) where you are unless you personally okay it each
time. Otherwise, Creepy Steve will find out where you live.
S a f e ly Disposi ng of Ol d De v ice s
In addition, be careful with what you throw away. Don’t just
toss your old phone, tablet, or computer in the trash. And
never just hand it over to a reseller, trade-in outlet, or phonefor-cash service without wiping it. Remember from the last
chapter that even if you delete everything, you leave behind all
kinds of private account information. Wiping is the way to go.
Some people make a game out of finding people’s information on discarded hard drives and devices; others make
a living finding, selling, or otherwise using thrown-away (or
traded-in) electronics to steal identities.
Scammers and identity thieves will go through trash for
discarded devices, but it’s not just dumpster divers who are
scouring data off the phones and computers you throw away.
how to share 93
In 2014, a Sprint worker was caught sending around nude
photos he’d recovered off a customer’s phone—one a female
customer had traded in for a new phone. That’s why whenever
you dispose of a computer or phone, it’s crucial for you to scour
all the personal information it stores.
What these scammers and creeps are doing is basically
the same thing as a hard drive recovery. If you’ve ever had a
computer, external hard drive, camera, or phone crash and die
on you (or you dropped it and it stopped working), you probably know what a hard drive recovery is, because you paid
someone to get your data back. Hard drive data recovery is
possible because of data remanence, which means that some
data still lives on a drive even after it has been “lost.”
It’s easy to make sure you get rid of your electronics safely.
First, follow the instructions on how to save or transfer information to a new device. Transfer your phone book, lists of calls
made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received,
organizer folders, web search history, and photos. Make sure
you’ve copied everything, because once you scrub your device,
there’s no going back.
Then, consult the service provider’s website or the device
manufacturer’s website for the steps to delete information
permanently. For a Mac, look on the Apple website for how to
wipe the hard drive. For a Windows PC, you’ll find a complete
how-to on Microsoft’s website.
Your phone already has built-in tools to securely erase the
data on it. Each operating system is different, though. You’ll
go about wiping an iPhone differently than an Android or a
Blackberry or a Windows phone. So google the steps for your
exact device. In general, you’ll look in the Settings menu for
terms such as Erase all content and settings, Backup and
reset, or Factory reset.
94 C h a pt e r 6
You’re almost done! Some phone wipes are better than
others, but no matter what type of phone you have, you need
to remove your SIM card, because it’s possible for contacts or
call logs to still be on that card. If you have a micro SD card,
don’t forget to take that out, too. If you can’t take the SD card
out, you’ll need to erase and format the SD card. You can find
this function in your phone’s settings.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
— J o h n L y d o n
of the
Sex Pistols
7. people-search
In February 2012, a man in Minneapolis stormed into a Target
store with a fistful of coupons that had been sent to his house
for pregnancy- and baby-related items. He was angry that
Target was sending inappropriate mail to his house, where
he lived with his teenage daughter.
Of course, the clerks at Target had no idea what he was
talking about. But after going back home and talking to his
daughter, he later apologized to the Target employees because
it turned out that his daughter was, in fact, pregnant. Like
most big companies, Target had created a profile of his daughter and tracked her, which is how it figured out that she was
pregnant before her own father did.
96 C h a pt e r 7
Here’s the deal. Every detail of your life—what you buy,
where you go, whom you love—is being extracted from the
Internet, bundled up, and sold by data-mining companies.
That information comes from the websites you visit, the stuff
you buy, your Facebook photos, your credit cards, your points
and miles accounts, the music you listen to, the videos you
watch online, the surveys you fill out, and the magazines you
subscribe to. Add it all up, and you’ve got coupons about your
supposedly private health status being sent to your home.
The sad truth is that when you visit Jezebel to read an
article, you may think that only Jezebel is collecting your data.
What you may not realize is that every ad on that page is also
attaching a tracking code to you and collecting information
about you.
But I ’ m Not T h at I n t er e sti ng
The information that you post on Facebook, no matter how
boring or useless it seems to you, can make you a marketing
target. Your bundle of information is sold to advertisers for
about two-fifths of a cent as part of an enormous, multibilliondollar industry that centers on the collection and sale of you.
You are the product. And business is booming.
Shady data dealing has been around since the birth of
junk mail, telemarketing, and credit companies, but the laws
designed to keep us safe haven’t kept pace with the Internet
age. Tech-savvy businesses have realized that they can collect
your data with abandon (even skimming it from apps on your
phone that leak user data when they shouldn’t).
Your personal and private info is worth more money when
it’s accurate. Unfortunately, many companies that buy and
sell your information don’t care about accuracy, as long as
they can make even a little money off you as a product. Just as
there are few legal safeguards to protect our privacy and our
control over private information, the companies buying and
people-search websites 97
selling your data also have not been held liable under any laws
or accountable to any standards when it comes to protecting
the security of your private information. They may share it
to make money, or they may get hacked and your information
may be stolen. This means your privacy is all up to you.
This can cause problems for you down the line in different ways, like wrong information ending up on your credit
reports, or when you’re dealing with identity theft. More and
more, it can harm your reputation when wrong information is
shared about you online, and it can harm your ability to get a
job if a possible employer does an online lookup and gets bad
information. The data dealers make plenty of mistakes, but I
think the biggest one they’ve ever made is thinking that you
don’t care about your privacy.
Advertisers and ad brokers want to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth for their clients when they place ads
on websites. They’ll pay extra to have their ads seen by website
visitors who are more likely to buy their clients’ products. In
some instances, the person being tracked on the website will
be in a block of tracked people whose information is being
auctioned off to the highest bidder.
In order to know whether a website visitor is likely to
click on a diaper ad, for example, both the website owner and
the advertiser want to have as much personal information as
possible. They want to be sure a diaper ad is seen by the exact
person who needs diapers at the exact moment they see the
ad. This means that for online marketers, the more personal
the information gets and the more accurate it is, the more
valuable it is.
To aim ads at pregnant customers, Target gathers information from its baby shower registry and combines it with a
website user’s shopping habits and ordering information, like
their address and phone number. The registry tells Target not
only that a user is pregnant but also when her due date is.
98 C h a pt e r 7
If there’s no registry, Target can still look at your shopping
history to predict what’s going on in your life. All of this adds
up to a profile that is worth a lot of money, considering how
much more Target can get people to spend if the company puts
the right ads and coupons in front of them at the right time.
The same thing goes for ads placed on social media websites
and other websites that make money off of selling targeted
advertising. If Facebook figures out a user is pregnant, getting
married, or any number of things we usually consider pretty
personal, Facebook then takes some of the information it has on
you and sells it to advertisers, who then buy ads on Facebook.
Some websites sell your contact information to advertisers and partners so those people can email you. Bottom line:
if you want to keep personal things private, it’s a good idea
to read privacy policies before you sign up for anything. And
if you do sign up—whether it’s a mailing list, a shopper profile on a store’s website, or a social media account—go into
your account settings ASAP and make sure you’re okay with
what the company can and can’t do with your information.
Unfortunately, most companies limit the amount of your own
information that you can control, and getting your info for free
to sell later feeds their profits. Google is a prime example.
T h e Da nger s Lu r k i ng i n
Pe opl e - Fi n der Sit e s
People-search services like Intelius, LexisNexis, Spokeo,
WhitePages, BeenVerified, and DOBSearch get their information through public records, while secondary sites aggregate
this information by data mining these sites. All of these sites
are problems for your privacy. This is because they provide the
general public with a dangerous amount of personal information about you. They offer to sell this information under the
guise of promising to reunite lost family members or old friends,
or providing detective services or phone book information.
people-search websites 99
With a quick search of your name on any given people-finder
site, you’ll most likely find your name, date of birth, names of
family members, current and past addresses, phone number,
and gender. Some sites will also reveal your marital status,
hobbies, online profiles, and maps or a photo of your house.
Intelius, for instance, claims to offer over 100 intelligence
services, including a simple people search that provides a
person’s address and phone numbers and a background report
showing criminal activity (though even Intelius conceded in a
2008 SEC filing that its information is often inaccurate and
Many people-finder sites will give up enough information
about you for free to total strangers that finding out would
make you choke on your latte. In other words, anyone with
an Internet connection can stalk you from their couch with a
couple dozen keystrokes.
Scary? Completely.
How Pe opl e - Fi n der Sit e s Ge t
You r I n f or m ation
People-finder sites typically use these sources to compile their
information about you:
• Birth certificates
• Business and entity filings
• Census statistics
• Criminal records
• Death certificates
• Driver’s licenses
• Government spending reports
• Legislation minutes
• Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
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• Political campaign contributions
• Professional and business licenses
• Real estate transactions (including appraisals)
• Sex offender registrations
• Trademark filings
• Unsealed lawsuits or legal actions
• Voter registrations
They also use information that you’ve supplied by doing
any of these things:
• Completing surveys
• Entering sweepstakes
• Posting in forums
• Registering for online accounts and completing profiles
• Returning rebate and warranty cards
But don’t throw in the towel yet. You can do something
about this.
I t S ou n d s Li k e T h er e ’ s Not h i ng I Ca n Do,
so W h y Do A n y t h i ng?
You can fight this crazy privacy invasion business by opting
out of people-finder websites. (You’ll find a sample opt-out
letter and a list of websites to send it to in the Resources
section.) The opt-out procedures are often complicated and
daunting, and I’m pretty convinced that they’re intentionally
intimidating for the average person. That’s because these sites
don’t want to remove your data. However, they’ll usually do
so if you officially request it, though you’ll have to give them
your information in order to get them to remove it. Something
doesn’t sound right there, for sure, but there’s no other way
people-search websites 101
to get the job done. Do what you can to block online tracking; it won’t hurt to use browser add-ons that block targeted
advertising cookies and trackers.
Many sites require that you scan and provide your ID,
and they make things harder by accepting opt-out request
letters only by fax or postal mail. If you need to send them
your ID, never do so without blacking out your photo and ID
number first.
Not only are the opt-out processes frustrating in general,
but they are also all frustratingly different. While many of
the companies are subsidiaries of the others, each has its own
opt-out procedure, and some of the sites don’t even state that
opting out is possible in their openly stated privacy policies,
even if they have backroom privacy policies that do allow it.
Don’t give up! This is still your information they’re trying to
peddle, and you can insist that they knock it off.
“I have guy friends, but the problem with having guy friends
is, like, I always get linked to them, and they’ll end up in a
slideshow of people I’ve apparently dated on the Internet.”
—T a y l o r S w i f t
8. dating and
Dating is stressful, but it gets an extra, heaping layer of stress
with the worries that come with online privacy and security.
From our own missteps (like if we accidentally share too much
on Twitter) to companies putting our sensitive information
online (as people-finder services do), dating is like a purse filled
with candy and hand grenades. No girl wants to be freaking
out about privacy when she’s trying to meet someone to go out
with, but it’s important for you to manage your privacy when
you’re signing up for a dating site.
Most big dating websites have a page of privacy suggestions. Some are linked in really small print from the signup
page, and others are buried within the site on a promotional
blog post.
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It’s a good idea to read the privacy suggestions on each
site you sign up for, but the sites may not make it obvious
that you should read their advice before you make a profile.
Another problem with dating sites, and one that they
aren’t up-front about, is that a lot of them are fighting a serious problem with fraud.
Ever heard of the Nigerian bank scam or 419 scam? In a
nutshell, it’s targeted spam from an often fictitious someone
who seems honest and who really seems to need your help.
The scammer attempts to convince you that they know you or
are somehow related to you in order to get you to send them
money (or give them bank credentials). A lot of people fall
for this scam over email, but now there’s a big twist: these
scammers are using dating websites to con single women out
of money, plane tickets, and more. (It happens a lot on faithbased dating websites, where the thieves prey on a lonely
lady’s faith and goodwill.)
Aside from fine-tuning your bullshit detector, you can
eliminate these scammers like cockroaches by following some
simple privacy rules, as explained in the next section. Don’t
sign up for a dating site until you read these rules—they’ll
help you keep creepers from getting any power or control over
you, too.
M a k e a Sm a rt Dati ng Prof i l e
The key to a bulletproof dating profile is making sure that
you control how much can be found out about you—both what
real (and private) information people get to learn about you
and when they get to learn it. It’s easy to make a safe profile
if you take the right precautions.
For one thing, never put your personal contact details in
your profile—that means nothing from your red or yellow
alert lists in Chapter 2. Always make up a fake birth date and
use a screen name (or nickname) that isn’t your first and last
dating and sexytime 105
name, because you can be tracked when someone discovers
your real name.
Never use your real email address (or your work email
address!) on a dating website. Use a free email account and
make sure to use your dating website screen name or another
nickname in the “from” and signup fields. This protects you
from anyone trying to search your email address to find out
more about you on Google, on social websites, or anywhere
else your email address can be found online.
Pay attention to your photos: use photos on your dating
profiles that aren’t used anywhere else, unless you want
people to be able to easily find out who you are and what you
do (or more). Google and a few other websites allow anyone
to search images. All you have to do is upload a photo, and
the search engine will show you all copies of the image that
can be publicly found, with links to the sites where the photo
is located. Before you add photos to your dating profile, use
Google’s Search by image to make sure your images won’t
reveal things you’re being careful to keep private. Your best
bet is to always take separate photos for your dating profile.
Keep everything on your red and yellow list private until
you’re ready to share it and you know the person you’re sharing
it with is safe. Always keep your personal information private
during the initial stages of dating. If you choose to share your
computer with others, disable the auto sign-in feature on your
account, clear your history after you check the dating site, and
clear all saved passwords so you won’t accidentally expose your
dating profile to someone who shouldn’t be seeing it.
Don’t add a potential date or even a current dating partner to your Facebook, Instagram, or other social media site
until you’re sure they’re safe. This may sound harsh, but it’s
a terrible idea to do so until you know the person better. Your
photos, your profile info, and even your friends and family will
give away much too much about you, and sometimes it can
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take a few months before you realize you’ve let a stalker into
your social media (or your real) life. You don’t want to find
out that your potential date’s real name is Creepy Steve after
he’s made himself Facebook friends with your coworkers, your
besties, or your mom.
Scr e e n Out Sca mm er s a n d Sta l k er s
The US Federal Trade Commission has solid advice for screening out scammers and stalkers. Cut off communication with,
don’t trust, and give a big fat boot to the ass of anyone who
does any of these things:
• Asks for your real name, location, address, workplace,
schedule, phone number, real email address (or anything
else on your red and yellow alert lists).
• Asks too quickly to talk or chat using an outside email or
messaging service.
• Claims to be from the United States but is currently traveling, living, or working abroad, especially if they say they’re
in trouble and need your help. (Some scammers claim
they’ve been stabbed and robbed and are in an overseas
• Asks for money.
• Vanishes mysteriously from the site and then reappears
under a different name.
• Talks about “destiny” or “fate.”
• Claims to be recently widowed.
• Asks for your home, workplace, or school address under
the guise of sending flowers, presents, or gifts.
• Asks for pictures of you in front of your house, your work,
or near a vehicle with your license plate visible.
dating and sexytime 107
• Makes an inordinate number of grammar and/or spelling
• Sends you emails containing strange links to third-party
If something just doesn’t add up about someone you meet
online, hit the eject button. Don’t start revealing personal
information until you’ve checked someone out completely and
they haven’t raised even one red flag.
Finally, don’t even begin to plan a meeting until you read
the safety guidelines at (http://chemistry​
.com/help/safety/). They explain how to prepare for talking
about a first meeting and how to meet safely.
M a k e t h e I n t er n e t W e a r a C on d om
No one wants to be watched online, but if you don’t check a
couple of settings and add some quick and easy apps to your
browser, you will be. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to
keep your computer from being clogged with trackers, which
report your surfing habits to marketing agencies or record
your (sometimes embarrassing) search history in the profile
these companies keep on you. You don’t want someone secretly
intercepting your Internet connection in a café and snooping
on you or, worse, spying on you and stealing your stuff.
When you go online to visit websites, you’ll be using a web
browser like Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera,
or Dolphin or your phone’s Internet app. Each has different
levels of privacy protections, and you can amp them up with
various extensions and add-ons. The two browsers considered
at the top of their game for privacy are Firefox and Chrome.
As a first step, visit the website for your browser and
download and install any security patches or updates (follow
the directions there). Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the
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most vulnerable, but you can set your browser preferences
to automatically check for new security and virus patches
daily—which you’ll especially want to do if you’re on a PC
rather than a Mac, regardless of your browser. Computers
running Windows are more vulnerable to attacks, viruses, and
malware than Apple computers, but no computer is completely
safe. Run all the security updates your computer tells you to,
and check for browser updates monthly. Make it a habit, like
brushing your teeth.
Not many people know this, but an important part of
Chrome’s security safeguarding expires if it doesn’t get its
once-a-month update. Click the Chrome menu on the browser
toolbar and select About Google Chrome. Chrome will check
for updates when you’re on this page. Click Relaunch, and
you’re all set.
While you’re doing privacy chores, schedule a virus scan
to make sure that no cybercrime rings put a malware/spying
program on your hard drive that time you accidentally opened
an attachment you thought was from a friend.
Evil comes in the form of sites or files you download
(whether on purpose or together with something else that you
download) that install malware, spyware, or viruses designed
to infect your computer. Malware can even be injected into
your computer just from you visiting a site (called a drive-by
download). Spyware, malware, and viruses can send private
information about your online browsing and search habits to
a puppet master controlling them. The mess must be cleaned
up with an antivirus program or malware remover.
Pr i vat e T im e On l i n e : Brow si ng Pr i vat e ly
a n d Secu ri ng You r Sensiti v e I n f or m ation
What you do in your private time should be nobody’s business but your own—even if that means looking at adult content online; doing embarrassing searches; researching health
dating and sexytime 109
problems; downloading a friend’s private photo or a file to your
hard drive; or finding answers about love, sex, and relationships. Or maybe you share a computer at home, and you just
want some privacy when you check Facebook. There is no bad
reason for keeping things private.
Privacy keeps us sane and emotionally strong. You’re not
doing anything wrong when you want to erase your tracks
both online and offline.
One way to protect your privacy online is to use a VPN, or
virtual private network, to mask your computer’s IP address.
You can use a VPN to secure access to your own network as
well as to public Wi-Fi or Internet access spots. It’s a great
way to keep your browsing private and attack-proof.
The easiest way to set up a VPN is to subscribe to a VPN
service, and there are a lot of great inexpensive ones to choose
from. (You’ll learn more about using a VPN in Chapter 9, “Ninja
Tricks.”) A VPN is also a handy way to protect your identity if
you want to leave a comment or browse secretly without the
website you’re visiting knowing your location.
Search Engine Creep
Did you know that search engines (like Google) can track
your searches, the information your computer sends them,
and more? Some of these you can control in a search engine’s
settings (though it will require you to make an account to opt
out of some tracking), but some search engine snooping you
can’t stop. Your personal information can be revealed when
you search online (especially when you’re logged in to an
account like Facebook, Google, or Twitter), because your IP
address (your computer’s address online) can be linked to the
search terms you’ve used (the better to serve you targeted ads).
Unless you use a VPN to keep your IP address private, search
engines can also use your IP address to find wherever you are
in the world. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all of
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your favorite social media sites make money by tracking you,
packaging you up as a product, and selling your information
to advertisers. Search engines can retain your information,
such as your current location and the time you spend using
the search engine, for up to 90 days.
You’ve probably heard the word cookies bandied about or seen
it pop up on a site with a note about using third-party cookies.
Cookies are pieces of information stored on your computer
when you visit websites. These cookies send information back
to the websites and the companies that place them. Sometimes
they’re only on your computer temporarily; other times they’re
there indefinitely (unless you delete them).
In many cases, cookies are useful and no big deal when
their only job is to remember you on a site where you want to
remain logged in. They might unobtrusively send your password and user ID to a site so you don’t have to log in every
time you leave and come back. (Many people find this very
helpful, but remember to log out if you leave your computer
unattended. And keep in mind that when you’re logged in on
a site like Facebook, its cookies can still track you even when
you’re not using the site.)
But most third-party cookies are used for data-mining
purposes. They’re there to track you and build the cookie
owner’s dossier on you. Some companies even participate in
cookie-sharing rings. They share (sell) your info to hundreds
or thousands of data buyers. They don’t ask for your permission, they are probably getting some embarrassing stuff, and
the only way to stop them is to tell your browser to not allow
third-party cookies and to occasionally clean out your browser’s
cookies, history, and cache.
dating and sexytime 111
Leave No Trace
To keep your information and interests private, after you surf
the Internet, clear your browser’s history (the record of where
you’ve been online), cache (a repository for stored data about
sites you’ve visited), and cookies. You may not be able to do
this on a work or school computer, so that’s a good reason
not to do anything private at work or school. And if you walk
away from your computer in a public space, even just to go to
the bathroom, log out of everything you’re using and lock it.
Browsers have different stealth modes that you can use
for private browsing, as long as you remember that they don’t
completely cover your tracks. Firefox allows you to open a New
Private Window from its menu, but it’s not completely private.
When you open a private window, Firefox won’t record your
browsing history, but you’ll notice that you’re still logged in
on some sites. Chrome’s Incognito Mode is similar. But none
of the stealth modes will make you anonymous online.
Keep Your Sensitive Files Private
Anything you print can usually be traced to you if someone
has enough money, time, and motivation to find you. If you’re
worried about printing certain files, put them on a USB stick
(super cheap on Amazon) and take them to a copy shop. Carry
the USB stick with you, and password protect it if possible.
Erase Files Completely
When you delete a file simply by pressing delete on your
keyboard or dumping it in the Trash or Recycle Bin, it’s not
really deleted. Unless you obliterate the file using specialized
software, it can be recovered simply by undeleting it or doing a
disk recovery. The disk recovery may not be cheap and it may
take time, but money and time aren’t enough to prevent motivated people from pursuing something that they want badly.
112 C h a pt e r 8
You would be amazed at the sensitive information people
throw away with their computers every day. A hacker at an
underground hacker conference in San Francisco gave an
entire talk (with a slideshow) of what he found by doing data
recovery on hard drives he bought off of eBay. The highlight
of his March 2014 demonstration was showing the sensitive
information he recovered on the hard drive that belonged to
a guy who runs a service wiping and selling hard drives.
When deleting files, choose a Secure empty trash option
if it’s available, even if that takes a long time. If you’re really
worried, use a program that securely wipes (not deletes) your
sensitive data.
Make Your Browser Private
One of the key steps in making sure that your sensitive information remains private and secure is to reduce the information
that your web browser shares. First, go into your browser’s
settings and take a look at the privacy and security bits. Turn
off anything that clearly says it’s tracking you: for instance,
Firefox has a little button you can click that says, “Tell sites
that I do not want to be tracked.”
Here’s how to access the privacy and security settings from
each browser menu:
• Chrome: Settings4(Show advanced settings) Privacy
• Firefox: Preferences4Privacy
• Internet Explorer: Tools4Internet Options4Privacy
• Safari: Preferences4Privacy (and Preferences4Security)
• Safari mobile: Settings4Safari4Privacy & Security
Once you’re in these menus, you can tinker with the settings. Don’t sweat it if you don’t understand a lot of what you
see. Remember, if you change a setting that causes a behavior
dating and sexytime 113
you don’t like, it’s a snap to change it right back. Here are the
primary things to adjust:
• How the browser handles your history: Do you want
it to save a list of the pages you’ve visited online? If not,
make sure you clear your browsing data.
• The files you’ve downloaded: If you don’t want a list of
files you downloaded hanging around, change this setting
(you’ll still be able to download files—the browser just
won’t keep a record).
• Information you enter into forms: It’s convenient to
have our email address, home address, or name automatically filled in on a form, but that means anyone can see
this information if they use your computer. Turn this off.
• Cookies: You can choose which sites can give you cookies
and which cookies to remove from your browser to prevent
sites from tracking you. For instance, if I visit a Facebook
page, I always clean the cookies out afterward so Facebook
can’t keep tracking me. Blocking cookies can make some
websites impossible to use, which is annoying, so experiment with your cookies settings to see what keeps you safe
and sane at the same time.
Do Not Track
With Safari mobile, you can turn on antiphishing, and with all
of these browsers, you can change a preference that tells the
browser you don’t want to be tracked by websites. For instance,
in Chrome, you can include a Do Not Track request with your
browsing traffic, and with Firefox, you can turn on the setting
Tell sites that I do not want to be tracked. The Do Not Track
setting is really only a suggestion from the browser, and it’s
ignored by websites that don’t choose to respect it. Still, it can
help, so always activate it. (Turning on this setting shouldn’t
affect your browsing experience otherwise.)
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Private Browsing
You should find a Private Browsing setting in every browser
(Chrome calls it Incognito Mode). You should be able to set
private browsing to On in Settings (or Preferences) or use it
on a case-by-case basis by simply opening a separate browser
window from the drop-down menu under File.
The term private browsing fools some people into thinking
it makes their online activity anonymous—it doesn’t. Websites
can still see the identifying information coming from your
computer or mobile device, such as your IP address and your
browser’s unique identifiers. What private browsing actually
does is force the browser not to save your history or any form
information—read: no autocomplete, no saved passwords, no
saved Downloads list, no temporary (cached) content, and no
There are thousands of excellent Firefox extensions, Chrome
plug-ins, Safari add-ons and extensions, and IE add-ons for
privacy protection, but there are also a lot of bad, fake ones,
too. (Browser extensions, plug-ins, and add-ons are apps that
you can use to customize your browser in a bunch of different ways.) But don’t add them all or you could slow down the
browser a lot.
When choosing extensions, read reviews, look at what’s
popular for privacy and security, and choose wisely. It’s usually
okay to trust plug-ins and extensions that come from reputable
companies and developers, but if you’re concerned, search for
them online to see if users are complaining about something.
I recommend installing these plug-ins and extensions to turn
your browser into a privacy shield:
• AdBlock Plus: Blocks ads and tracking for most
• AVG PrivacyFix: Manages all social media privacy
dating and sexytime 115
• Blur: Blocks tracking, manages passwords, offers disposable email addresses, and much more.
• BugMeNot: Bypasses the sign-in on websites that require
your info to simply read a page.
• Cocoon: Blocks tracking and offers disposable email
• Disconnect: Blocks Facebook tracking.
• DuckDuckGo: A nontracking search engine
• Ghostery: Alerts you to bugs, tracking, and ad networks
on sites you visit. It can be overwhelming and controversially resells anonymized user metrics.
• HTTPS Everywhere: Enables encryption automatically
on sites that support it.
How to T e l l I f S om e on e
Wa s on You r C omput er
If the idea of someone physically looking through your computer when you’re not around makes you feel like (a) someone
just dug through your underwear drawer and (b) you want
to Hulk-smash something, then welcome to the None of Your
Business club. You should be mad, and yes, it’s a total violation. The person who looked through your life either knew
they were doing something wrong or thinks it’s their right to
go through your stuff. Both of these are never okay.
If someone pokes around on your computer when they
know they shouldn’t, they’re usually looking for something
they don’t have permission to look at. They may think you
are cheating on them, lying, or worse. Whatever the reason,
it’s wrong. They should just come out and ask you or live with
the fact that it’s none of their business.
When someone in your life invades your privacy, they
may think they’re protecting you or otherwise doing it “for
your own good.” But it’s up to you to decide what’s good for you.
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If they want to warn you about something or they’re worried
about a serious risk to you, the first thing they should do is
talk to you, not snoop on your computer. Parents and older
family members sometimes think that spying on you is the
best way to make sure you’re safe, but that approach always
backfires. It makes you not trust them, it makes you figure
out how to have your own privacy anyway, and whatever it
is they want to protect you from is always something they
should talk to you about, in person.
A longtime friend of mine is a computer-savvy dad, and
he’s really cool with his daughter—about talking about sex,
having her ask about anything, explaining scary stuff, and
letting her evaluate her own risks and feelings. Sometime
after she turned 14, she and I were hanging out while her dad
went to get coffee. I asked if her dad made her use Internet
filters or share her passwords, and she said yes.
I heard all about the Internet filters at home, how all of
her social media accounts were password shared with mom
and dad, and how a lot of things around the house were password protected and everyone had their own login accounts. It
sounded like her high-tech dad didn’t give her much privacy,
and I asked if she thought it was weird. She told me no, because
her dad was cool and she didn’t care if he checked in on her,
but she could tell he hardly ever did. Besides, she told me, “And
don’t tell my dad, but I cracked our house passwords a long time
ago, and I have separate social media and email accounts he
doesn’t know about under different names. I clear everything
all the time. Everyone at school has different names online.”
She knew she was being spied on, and it was just her dad
and mom, but they were honest with her about being big old
snoops. It may not have seemed fair, but she had an expectation that under the family roof, her parents were watching
her online and they didn’t do it behind her back.
dating and sexytime 117
When someone tries to spy on your computer without telling you, there are some simple ways to find out.
• Look at the Most Recently Used items on Windows or at
Recent Items from the Apple menu on a Mac. You’ll see
your recently used applications, documents, and servers.
Open your web browser and look at the history and cookies.
• Type letters in alphabetical order into the URL (address)
bar, search bar, and search engines to see what comes
up—this works if any kind of auto fill is turned on, which
is usually on by default.
• Check the Trash or Recycle Bin on your Desktop for files
that may have been deleted by someone digging around
and trying to hide their tracks—or see if the Trash is empty
when you know you didn’t leave it that way.
• If you decide to restore any files you find, make sure you
note where the file’s original location was, because that’s
where the file will reappear after you undelete it.
• You can also install monitoring software like a keylogger
to secretly record what anyone types when they use your
“I think it’s better to have your personal life and your work life
separate. That way they don’t corrupt each other, so to speak.”
—Z oo e y D e s c h a n e l
9. ninja tricks
You don’t have to be a hacker to use advanced tricks and
techniques to secure your data and lock your privacy down
tighter than the average person does. There’s quite a bit of
privacy and security kung fu you can do to protect yourself
that doesn’t require technical acumen (though if you want to
get technical, there are plenty of options for you to take your
privacy and security as far as possible).
One of the things repeated in information-security circles
is that people don’t want to sacrifice convenience for security,
and this is the source of many headaches for companies that
want to make things more secure without making something
like a sign-in process annoying for users or customers. While
it may be true that convenience will trump security most of
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the time for the average person, adding a layer of security to
your credit cards or bank accounts will make any inconvenience
seem like a fine trade-off in the event your account information gets into the wrong hands.
Ni nja You r Cr e dit Ca r d s
We’ve learned the hard way that even the biggest companies
are vulnerable. It’s estimated that over one million people a
year are victims of identity theft. Credit card account information theft and fraudulent charges are becoming more common,
and credit card companies are struggling to combat the increasing number of charges they have to swallow for customers
whose accounts have been compromised.
While you’re not legally liable for fraudulent charges over
$50 (per transaction) in the United States, companies are
starting to make it harder for account holders, especially
ones who are repeatedly victimized. For instance, credit card
companies can make you go through the process of making a
statement under oath in order to contest charges you didn’t
make. In some cases where an account is compromised more
than once, the bank may also make you go through an arduous
process to prove your identity (including taking your Social
Security card to a local branch of the card issuer’s bank in
person). And if you don’t do as asked, the bank will simply
close your credit card account(s)—immediately, even if the
theft wasn’t your fault.
So even though this is actually a problem with the way
these institutions are dealing with security and consumer protection, the responsibility is on us to protect our credit cards
more than ever. Here’s what to do to tighten the defenses on
your credit cards and limit your risk if they’re lost or stolen:
• Use prepaid credit cards or gift cards when shopping. You
can use your regular cards most of the time and use gift
ninja tricks 121
cards when you don’t trust where you’re shopping to lessen
your chances of ending up on a victim list. If you lose a
gift card or someone steals it, you aren’t at risk for losing
any more than the value of the card. (You’ll find a list of
prepaid credit cards in the Resources section.)
• Try one-time use, disposable credit cards. Ask your bank
or credit card company if it offers them. While not the most
convenient way to shop, these disposable card numbers
typically have a 24-hour use window or limit your purchases to a fixed amount, so even if the number is stolen,
a thief can’t do a lot of damage. Another service worth
considering is called a Masked Card. MaskMe (https:// allows you to create unique,
disposable credit cards in specific amounts; they’re like
prepaid gift cards that you can create as you shop. The
charge shows up on your credit card bill as “Abine Inc.,” so
the shop never receives your real credit card information.
If the store gets attacked, your credit card is still safe, and
Abine doesn’t store your credit card information, either.
Ni nja Mov e : F r e e z e You r Cr e dit
Not many people know that they can place a security freeze on
their credit. It’s one of the top ways to prevent identity theft,
but the companies that manage your credit scores (Experian,
TransUnion, and Equifax) won’t be running Super Bowl commercials about security freezes anytime soon because when
you freeze your credit, you severely limit their ability to sell
your information.
In every US state, a credit freeze effectively stops all access
to your credit report and blocks the process of issuing new
credit. You have to unfreeze your reports when you want to
apply for credit, like a new credit card, a loan, or anything else
that requires a business to check your credit. You can lift the
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freeze temporarily for an amount of time that you specify, or
you can have it completely lifted.
Placing a security freeze is an incredibly smart thing to
do. Once you’ve frozen your credit, no one can pull your credit
report without your permission, and if a thief tries to do
something like open a credit card in your name, you’ll find out
and the criminal will be blocked. A security freeze is different
from a fraud alert (which you should place if a company you
do business with was breached—see Chapter 3).
It’s not free: it usually costs around $10 (and you have to
do it at each credit agency’s website—Experian, TransUnion,
and Equifax—who don’t make it easy). It will cost you another
$10 to lift the freeze, which is what you’ll do when you apply
for credit cards or loans in the future.
Here’s where to go to put a credit freeze in place:
• Experian:
• TransUnion:
• Equifax:
Here are the links you’ll need to set fraud alerts:
• Experian:
• TransUnion:
• Equifax:
St e a lt h Out You r M a i l i ng A ddr e ss
People do evil things all the time. Websites and online apps
are attacked. Creeps steal our purses and keep our ID cards.
One way to protect yourself and your privacy is to set up a
mailing address that’s different from your home address. This
is one that you can use with social media websites and apps
and even attach to your credit cards.
ninja tricks 123
Another way is to rent a mailbox at the local post office
or a place like a UPS Store licensed to rent them, and then
use your box to receive mail that you don’t want coming to
your house. Although federal law in the United States doesn’t
allow you to use a PO box or mail center address to apply for
bank accounts or credit cards, once you have the account set
up, it’s perfectly legal to change your mailing address to your
PO box mailing address. This way, when you use your credit
card somewhere dodgy and have to enter an address associated
with the card, you won’t be handing over your home address.
You should also use your mailbox address for things like
your cell phone bill and website registration or even when paying total strangers by check: use the checking account that has
your mailing address attached and never your home address.
St e a lt h Out You r Phon e Number
To prevent your phone number from being spread around
where you don’t want it to be, set up a second phone number
that forwards to your main number. If you have a land line at
home, you might make a cell phone number that second number, but a better option would be to get a free phone number
online, which you can then either access only online or forward
to your main number only when you want to.
You can set up a second phone number using popular services like Skype (very cheap) and Google Voice (free). Another
option is to use disposable masking phone number services,
like, which will let you create a temporary
phone number to use and then delete it forever.
Ni nja T r ick s :
E ncry pt You r Pr i vat e C ommu n ication
When former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked
documents to the press revealing widespread surveillance by
the National Security Agency (NSA), we learned that—for
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better or for worse—governments can spy on anything they
want to. And when government authorities fail, they make
private companies hand over information about users. The
people being spied on never know the difference. In fact,
companies like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and others have
been very public about the fact that this happens every day.
The people who work at companies like Google, Microsoft,
and Facebook and agencies like the NSA also do bad things
for their own purposes all the time. In 2010, Google fired an
engineer who cyberstalked and spied on the Gmail and Google
Voice accounts of several teens. He was the second Google
employee to be publicly fired for spying on Google users. In
2013, US officials confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that
NSA officers and employees were known to use the agency’s
eavesdropping tools to spy on spouses, love interests, and
more—so much so that the practice has a nickname like one of
the NSA’s spy operations—LOVEINT, short for love interest.
It’s all enough to make a girl really want to have truly
private communication. You can protect your email, instant
messaging, texting, and Internet browsing from most attacks
like these. Here’s how.
Protecting Your Email
The only way to truly, 100 percent keep your email private
is to use OpenPGP email encryption, which protects your
email so that the only person who can read it is the one you’re
sending it to. (PGP stands for “pretty good privacy.”) With
free services such as Mailvelope, any recipient you send an
encrypted message to will have to enter a password to read
it—and without the password, your message will just look
like a bunch of garbage. Gmail/Google Apps, Outlook, Yahoo!,
and GMX are all supported, and the app can be configured to
support others.
ninja tricks 125
Mailvelope is a browser extension for Google, Chrome, and
Firefox that allows secure email communication based on the
OpenPGP encryption standard. The framework of Mailvelope
and products like it is relatively straightforward. First, install
the plug-in. Next, you’ll generate a key pair, which means you’ll
use the plug-in to make two sets of code. One set is called your
public key, and this is the one you’ll publish. Each contact in
your address book who uses PGP or products like Mailvelope
will have their own public key, too.
The next time you open Gmail, Yahoo!, or whichever email
brand you use, you should notice a lock icon in the compose
area when you begin an email. When you’re done writing
and ready to send, just click on the lock icon, and Mailvelope
should encrypt the message with the recipient’s public key (if
they have one) when you hit send.
When you get an email that’s encrypted, the process goes
in reverse. You should see the encrypted message with a lock
on it, so just click it to enter your key as a password to open it.
Mailvelope will then search your saved keys to find the right
one and decrypt the message for you.
You can purchase commercial PGP software or use plugins like Mailvelope, or if you’re technically inclined, download
the open source version that uses the OpenPGP protocol, such
as GPG (GNU Privacy Guard). No matter what, if you want
to send an encrypted email, you need your recipient’s public
key (if they have one).
Not e Many PGP implementations have plug-ins for different email
clients, such as Outlook on PCs or Mail on Apple computers.
As with all software, this can be problematic when system
updates and PGP implementation updates don’t come at
the same time. Also, it’s important to note that you might
be restricted from using PGP at work or on your employer’s
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Keeping Your Chats Private
The best way to keep your online messaging secure is to use
a tool called Off-the-Record (OTR) messaging. OTR encrypts
your instant messages when you use services like Google
Hangouts and Facebook Chat. Chat/IM software clients like
Adium, Xabber, TextSecure, and ChatSecure all come with
OTR messaging, and there are OTR plug-ins you can get if you
use clients like Pidgin. OTR encrypts your messages so they
can’t be read if someone intercepts them, but it doesn’t let you
save your chats—which might be a desirable thing, depending
on how private you want to make your communication. Using
OTR means that even the service sending and receiving your
IMs and chat can’t read the content.
Although it’s the best tool we have today, PGP encryption
(and OTR) isn’t perfect. If the NSA really wants to spy on you,
it will figure out a way to break OTR (if it hasn’t already).
It’s important to also consider that there are ways for people
interested in digging up dirt on you to use information that
PGP doesn’t encrypt to find out the recipient of your message,
when you messaged them, their IP address, and so on. But
unless you’re hiding state secrets or doing something really
nefarious that will make the authorities hunt you down, PGP
and OTR should do the job for you, because you probably care
more about keeping your messages confidential than about
evading authorities. That said, if you’re a female activist (or
journalist, blogger, or writer) in a country where you’re a government target, use encrypted communications with caution:
reports of activists “flagged” for targeting because they use
encryption (or privacy tools such as Tor) are not uncommon.
Encrypting Your Internet Activity
You’ve probably noticed that some websites you visit have
http:// while others have https:// at the beginning of the
URL. The difference is the s, which stands for—you guessed
ninja tricks 127
it—security. The s means that the site you’re visiting is using
encryption as a secure layer for the sending and receiving of
your information. So if you fill out a form, press Submit, and
the website doesn’t have the s, it means that attackers could
read all the information you just submitted to the website. If
instead the website is using https, the information being sent
over the Internet is encrypted, and it can’t be read by anyone
snooping on Wi-Fi—or any network—traffic. Needless to say,
you should never ever enter your credit card number or any
information from your red list into a website that only uses http.
There’s a huge push by security professionals to get all
websites to use https. Unfortunately, adoption has been slow,
and a lot of big companies that transmit sensitive information
may still not use it. Until these companies come around to
using https, you can use the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s
HTTPS Everywhere browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox
to maximize the amount of web data you protect by forcing
websites to encrypt their pages when you visit them, whenever possible.
Ni nja Chok e Hol d :
St rong , E a s y Pr i vac y Apps
Privacy and security protection apps are a growing business
arena, and like all sectors, it’s a “buyer beware” area of technology. While it’s great that so many privacy and security
products are hitting the market for consumers, it’s important
to remember that if something seems too good to be true,
it probably is. Yet the emerging technologies that are from
reputable sources are really exciting, and they’re all making it
much easier for us to protect our privacy from both malicious
attackers and greedy companies who like to snoop.
There are a lot of hackers fighting the good fight for privacy,
and some have even created apps that make some pretty hardcore privacy work easy. These highly recommended ultra-privacy
128 C h a pt e r 9
apps include TextSecure (text messages), ChatSecure (IM and
chat), RedPhone (phone calls), Silent Circle (mobile devices,
desktop, and other communications), and Blur and Cocoon
(all-in-one privacy extensions for browsing the Internet).
Ni nja You r I P A ddr e ss
Websites and their advertisers are continually logging your
unique IP address and tracking what computer you’re coming
from. This means they have a very good idea of your physical
location. If that’s something you want to keep private, you
should know that you can’t trust these businesses (and probably not their employees) with that information. You’ll need
to decide if this is important for you to put on your privacy
list: make a risk assessment about hiding your IP address.
Some people don’t mind if their IP address/location is
known to websites and their partner businesses. Others find
that trying to keep their IP address private is such a pain in
the ass that they simply decide to take the risk. Many prefer
to only protect their IP address when they’re using Wi-Fi or
Internet access they don’t know or trust. Some people are
careful to hide their IP address when they use their laptops
in public, like at a café (it helps safeguard against malicious
hackers), but they don’t bother to hide their IP at home on
their own network.
Use Tor
One way to protect your identity as you cruise around the
Internet is to use the free Tor (the onion router) tool or apps
that use Tor, like Orbot for Android. Tor routes your Internet
traffic through what’s called an overlay network, which makes
it difficult for nosy people to follow the path your data takes
and trace it back to you.
The only problems with Tor are that using it will slow
down your Internet traffic and it may not be easy to set up
ninja tricks 129
(or troubleshoot) if you’re not particularly tech-savvy. Also, if
you suddenly start using Tor (or any form of encrypted communications), you may draw the unwanted attention of the
authorities, which is of particular concern to female activists.
(You’ll find a good explanation of how Tor works at http://eff​
Use a VPN
A significant number of people use a VPN to create a private
path for their computers and mobile devices to use when they
access the Internet. VPNs are generally easy to use, and there
are many to choose from. Your home Internet service provider
might even offer one for free. I love how much better I feel
using a VPN when I’m at hacker conferences! I can’t imagine
life without using a VPN, and I can’t recommend VPN use
strongly enough.
In companies, a VPN is typically used to connect employees
who aren’t at the workplace to a computer at work; they connect
remote employees to central work servers. Many companies
have VPNs so workers can access files and other resources
over the Internet. Outside of company use, VPNs are being
used more and more by people who just want to make their
Internet use more secure from attackers.
Most VPNs are encrypted, and that means they’ll encrypt
your Internet traffic, preventing people from intercepting your
connection. Once installed, a VPN is simple to use: just turn
it on before you go online (before you open your email, open
a browser window, and so on), and you’re all set. In a public
Wi-Fi environment like a café or airport, you’ll need to log
in to the Wi-Fi first and then open your VPN before making
another move.
To learn more about VPNs, read the article “Why You
Should Start Using a VPN (and How to Choose the Best One
130 C h a pt e r 9
for Your Needs).”* When you start your VPN shopping, I recommend reading any recent VPN reviews at Torrent Freak
Another recommended (and reputable) tool to try is Cocoon.
Cocoon hides your IP address when you access the Internet
with a Cocoon account, and the Cocoon client can be installed
on your browser or on your mobile device.
Ge t H a r d - cor e : M a k e a Data Si l o
In the offline world, a silo is a building where food is stored
in a very secure way. In tech, a data silo is used to store data
files securely to keep them from being accessed, tampered
with, looked at, stolen, or otherwise interfered with.
In regular human life, we can silo certain things from the
rest of our digital world so they don’t overlap or get accessed
by apps or companies that do things with our information that
we can’t control. Siloed data can’t exchange content with other
systems in the organization. The data in a silo remains sealed
off from the rest of the organization, just as grain in a farm silo
is closed off from the outside elements. Grain needs to be closed
off from bugs and germs so it doesn’t rot or get contaminated,
and I think of apps and accounts in the same way.
Entities like Facebook, Apple, and Google can creep into
many different apps, sharing our information with them
without us even knowing. One way to prevent this is to relegate them to their own browser: this is a kind of silo. If we
silo Facebook, it can’t take our data from other apps without
our consent. If we silo Gmail, critical information in Gmail
doesn’t end up in other products or apps unless we want it to.
* Alan Henry, “Why You Should Start Using a VPN (and How to Choose the Best One
for Your Needs),”
ninja tricks 131
Facebook wants to “infect” all the other apps it can to get
more info on me, so I keep it in its own browser (Safari), and I
use browser extensions in Firefox that block Facebook’s cookies
from tracking me when I’m doing my regular news reading and
shopping. That way, if I shop at an online vitamin store but
decide to quit and leave my shopping cart, I don’t get creepy
vitamin ads for the things I abandoned in my shopping cart the
next time I go to Facebook. I did my shopping only in Firefox
and didn’t let Facebook spy on me. So when I go to Facebook,
it only knows what I choose to share with it.
“I’m always having to be told to brush my hair.”
—L e n a D u n h a m
10. I hate
Passwords suck. Think about it this way: a password is like a
house key, except it’s a key that you have to make up yourself
without even knowing how the lock works. Plus, you have to
remember how to make your key every time you go home.
Because we basically have to invent a new house key every
time we password protect an account, lots of us end up using
the same key for everything—house, bank, car, school or work
locker, hangout spot—which is something you’d never do in
real life. Worse, it’s a key that any thief can copy using apps
they can find on the Internet. So it’s no surprise that password
cracking is the top way that criminals steal from us.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck using password and login credentials for a long time, so if you really want to keep your
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stuff safe, you’ll need to use a bit of password trickery so that
when the bad guys come poking around, they’ll skip you and
go for the person who made his password 123456.
In this chapter, we’ll look at how people steal passwords
and then at a few ways you can get all kung fu with your
passwords without even breaking a sweat. Just choose the
technique that feels right for you, meaning the one that causes
you the least stress and annoyance. (Skip to “Password Fu”
on page 137 to get right down to business.)
How Pe opl e St e a l Pa ss wor d s
You’ve probably heard that it’s possible to crack passwords with
software that you can easily download from the Internet—and
this is true. Some programs will run for days or hours, endlessly
creating and trying possible passwords for your account (or
any account) by attempting to log in with one of these generated passwords. This kind of attack is called brute-forcing; it’s
kind of like trying thousands of random house keys on a door
hoping that one will work. But unlike the door to your house,
it’s not so easy to try those passwords on a website, because
most have safety catches in place to prevent criminals from
brute-forcing your accounts.
There are simpler ways to get your password though. One
is shoulder surfing, where someone watches over your shoulder
as you enter your password on your computer or phone while
you’re logging in on the bus or plane or at a café.
Social engineering is another way that you can have
your passwords stolen. Basically, social engineering involves
attempts to con you into telling someone your passwords. The
person conning you might call you and pretend that they’re
tech support for Gmail, telling you that you have email stuck
somewhere and they need your password to log in and free it
up. They might know the names of your friends or colleagues,
as well as their phone numbers and email addresses—all of
I hate passwords 135
which they can find online via social media sites like LinkedIn,
Facebook, Twitter, and people-search sites. Malicious people
can also use information they find about you on Facebook and
other sites to correctly guess the answers to password-reset
Paris Hilton’s phone was attacked using a technique called
inference. Criminals can use inference to simply guess your
passwords based on what they know about you, like your birth
date, pet’s name, or phone number. The password-reset question for Paris Hilton’s phone was her pet’s name, which was
plastered all over the Internet (and, at the time, on “missing”
posters around Beverly Hills).
In another embarrassing example, a well-known hacker
had one of his accounts compromised. His password for his
Gmail account was “fuckgmail”—and, you guessed it, his other
passwords were “fuckamazon,” “fuckyahoo,” and so on.
You should also know that if you let your Apple device or
browser store your passwords in its keychain, then anyone
with your computer can read all those passwords. That’s why
I keep my passwords stored in a strong password manager
program (like KeePass, 1Password, or others) instead.
Be wary of websites that ask for your phone number, but
in certain situations, like password authentication, giving your
phone number to a website is to your advantage. If you can
add a phone number to your profile to receive a code to reset
(or verify) your password via text message, do it. This is an
extra layer of safety for accounts like Gmail, because Creepy
Steve can only reset your Gmail password if he also has your
phone plus the unlock code to get into your phone in the first
place. Nice try, Creepy Steve: you lose.
But I H av e to Sh a r e M y Pa ss wor d
People will tell you over and over that you should never share
your passwords, but sometimes you have to. You might need
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to share a password for a family account, a household account,
a photo album you share with someone you love, or a group of
friends working on a project.
Here’s one thing to know: if a teacher, boss, TSA agent,
police officer, or anyone else tells you that you have to give
them your password, you shouldn’t do it unless you know
it’s against the law not to. Anyone who travels with laptops,
phones, and tablets should know what to do if security asks
for their password or an agent asks to see what’s on their
phone and how to protect sensitive or private information if
their gadget gets out of their hands.
Egregious digital privacy invasions occur when traveling
abroad: US border agents can legally search your laptop or
other digital device and copy the contents, as well as confiscate
devices. Border agents can do all of this without suspicion or
a warrant. And in my opinion, it shouldn’t be allowed. Read
up on the rules that govern wherever you’re traveling to and
from before you depart: the EFF maintains a page with more
information called “Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A
Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices.”*
However, while traveling inside the US border, it’s important to know that the TSA isn’t supposed to confiscate laptops,
search digital devices, or demand passwords. The TSA’s website states, “Should anyone at a TSA checkpoint attempt to
confiscate your laptop or gain your passwords or other information, please ask to see a supervisor or screening manager
In your workplace, check the employee handbook to see what
the policy is on passwords; many places state that employees
can never share passwords with anyone. If you don’t have a
handbook, ask your HR manager. If the company rules forbid
* Seth Schoen, Marcia Hofmann, and Rowan Reynolds, “Defending Privacy at the U.S.
Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices,”
I hate passwords 137
the sharing of your passwords, yet a boss demands that you
provide them, contact HR and email your boss to confirm this
request to document it in case anything goes wrong.
If as an employee you have access to anything that would
be illegal to share (medical information, banking info, and so
on), then you should absolutely contact HR and your company’s
legal department to notify them of the password-sharing
It’s illegal for an employer to ask for your personal passwords. In the United States, a federal law was passed in 2013
making it illegal for an employer (or potential employer) to ask
for an employee’s personal social media passwords. Employers
also may not demand that you log in for them (while your boss
is standing there) and let them look at your account.
If you share an account with friends or family, do it the
smart way. Don’t use a password that you use anywhere
else. Treat the shared account like any account that can get
attacked, but know that its security is weaker than that of
an account that you have total control over because it has a
shared password. Don’t connect that shared account to any
other accounts; otherwise an attacker could use that connection to get into those accounts.
Annoy everyone by making them change the shared password regularly, like at least once a month (or more often for
even better security).
Pa ss wor d Fu
Search online and you’ll find long lists of things to do to help
make your passwords stronger and attack-proof. If you decide
to use a password manager, these great little apps can generate
really strong passwords for you whenever you need one. You
can also use password generators on trusted websites, such
as LastPass ( or
Norton (
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Follow these rules and you’ll get better passwords:
• Make strong passwords that are at least 12 to 16 characters long.
• Don’t use pet or family names.
• Don’t use your address, Social Security number, birth date,
or other personal information.
• Never recycle or reuse a password—not even once.
• Change your passwords every 10 weeks to 90 days.
• Don’t let Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or any other browser
save passwords for you.
• Use password phrases (usually six or more words long)
for the best security.
• Include capital letters, numbers, and symbols if the app
or site allows it.
Once you’ve created and saved complex passwords for
every site, protect them:
• Block shoulder surfing by covering your screen as you enter
a password and making sure that no one’s observing you.
• Don’t tell anyone your password.
• Create passwords that are hard to guess.
• Password protect your phone, tablets, phablets, and
• Use a password manager.
Password managers like LastPass and 1Password save all
of your passwords safely in a vault and encrypt everything.
That way, you have them all in one place, no one can accidentally discover them, and you can make really complicated
passwords, because the manager will keep track of them (and
remember them) for you. You use one master password to
I hate passwords 139
unlock the password manager, and it saves and encrypts your
passwords either locally or on its site. Most of these applications also have crazy-awesome password creators that you
can and should use to generate super-strong new passwords
with one click—and the password app automatically saves
them for you.
Many of these apps can also be set to automatically enter
the password for you on websites or into applications during a
set time period (after which the password manager shuts down
unless you log back in). A lot of security nerds like password
managers because the app is the only thing that knows their
passwords and they’re very secure.
When shopping for a password manager, don’t use one
that stores your passwords on only one computer, because if
your computer gets stolen, then you’ll have to reset all of your
passwords. This could be really time-consuming, really hard,
or impossible. Look for reputable managers like KeePass,
oneSafe, 1Password (AgileBits), Password Safe, LastPass, and
SplashData. Most of these have both free and paid versions.
The free version might be all you need, though the paid versions offer extras such as being fast-tracked for help from a
support team or having an ad-free experience.
Before you pick a password manager, make sure it has all
the versions you need so that you’ll be able to sync passwords on
your home computer, tablet, and phone. For instance, LastPass
has apps for Apple, Android, Blackberry, Linux, Windows,
Safari, Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
“The hardest thing is trying not to correct everything on the
Internet. It’d be night and day—wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
So you just have to say, ‘All right, I’ll take it, bring it on.’ ”
—G e o r g e C l oo n e y
In this chapter, you’ll find links to the resources cited in
this book. For more supplementary material, visit the book’s
websites at and I also recommend
checking out the Electronic Frontier Foundation (https://
www.eff​.org/), Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (http://www​, and the Electronic Privacy Information
Center (EPIC; for more information
on online privacy and your rights.
142 resources
Ch a pt er 1: Ge t Sm a rt
Google Custom Alerts:
Google Reverse Image search instructions:
Antitheft Apps (see also Chapter 5)
Antitracking Plug-ins and Extensions (see also Chapter 8)
AdBlock Plus:
Password Managers (see also Chapter 10)
Searching Your Name (see also Chapter 7)
Ch a pt er 2 : But I t ’ s Just M y Phon e Number
Red Alert List
Real, full (family) name
Address of your home, workplace, or school
Social Security number
resources 143
Government ID numbers (driver’s license number and passport number)
Date and place of birth
Biometric information (fingerprints, facial recognition, voice recognition)
Computer’s IP address (a unique number that identifies your computer
on the Internet)
Specific location (geolocation numbers, like from your phone or in
tagged photos)
Credit and debit card numbers, security codes, and expiration dates
Bank account numbers
Answers to common security questions
Yellow Alert List
Name you use day to day, if different from your legal name
Primary screen name(s)
Email address (if it’s not public)
Telephone number
Race, sexual orientation, and gender
Mailing address (if it’s different from your residence; otherwise it’s red)
Country, state, and city of residence
ZIP code (or postal code)
Google Voice number
Green List
Secondary screen names or account names (say, a throwaway email
address that forwards to your primary address)
Mailing address or PO box
Digital, online phone number, such as a Skype number
Email addresses that are not linked to a vital service, such as your
bank account
Photos and videos that don’t embarrass you or reveal private information
144 resources
Social media profiles on sites where you’re confident you understand
the privacy settings
General likes, favorites, and things you enjoy sharing on social media
Single-use or gift credit cards
Ch a pt er 3 : You G ot H ack e d
FTC data breach complaint report: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant​
.gov/ and click Identity Theft
Hack checker: (has many, but not all)
Hard drive recovery: DriveSavers; http://www.drivesaversdatarecovery​
Account Recovery
Amazon: Use Help4Contact Us
eBay: 1.866.961.9253 (Tell them you’d like to talk about “Account—
someone has used your account.”)
Microsoft (Outlook, Xbox, Hotmail, and so on):​
PayPal: 1.888.221.1161 (Outside the United States, call 1.402.935.2050.)
Yahoo!: or 1.800.318.0612
For help finding direct phone numbers that may save you a ton of time,
check out
Backup Services and Products
Amazon Cloud Services:
resources 145
Create an Account with a New Email Provider
Microsoft Outlook:
(click Sign up)
Yahoo! Mail:
Zoho Mail:
Encryption Products
Encryption Programs
BitLocker for Windows:
FileVault for Mac:
Place a Fraud Alert
Equifax: 1.800.525.6285;; PO Box 740241,
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1.888.397.3742;; PO Box 2002,
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289;; Fraud
Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
146 resources
Ch a pt er 4: F e m a l e T roubl e
NNEDV (National Network to End Domestic Violence) Technology Safety
& Privacy Toolkit for Survivors: Safety tips, information, and privacy
strategies for survivors of abuse, stalking, bullying and harassment;
Online copyright infringement claim forms:
Whois lookups:; http://www​
Without My Consent: Legal paths for online harassment victims; http://
Counseling, Therapy, and Support
American Counseling Association: Counselor and therapist locators;
American Psychological Association, Psychology Help Center: http:// Confidential online counseling and therapy Reputable, secure website and network where you can
talk to a therapist online
Fight Cyberstalking:
National Association of Social Workers: Tips on finding a therapist and
resource links;
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: Sexual assault and sexual trauma
help resources; or 1.800.656​.HOPE [4673]
Tech savvy therapists who “get it”:
DMCA Takedown Request Services
DMCA Defender: (Make sure you read
reviews or talk to others who have used these services before you trust
them with your private problems.)
resources 147
DMCA email template:
Subject: Copyright Infringement Notification
1. This document is notification of the copyright infringement of
my photos on the website <WWW.WEBSITE.COM>.
2. I am the copyright owner of the photos posted at the following
3. I have not assigned or otherwise granted any rights to any
third party in the contents now or previously appearing on <WWW​
4. I hold exclusive rights to the copyrighted materials infringed.
5. The infringed copyrighted work has been identified in Paragraph 2,
and the information has been adequately identified to require that
such material be removed or access to it be immediately disabled.
6. I have a good faith belief that the use of the copyrighted material in this manner complained of is not authorized by the law.
7. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information of this
Notification is accurate and that I am authorized to act on behalf
of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and thank
you for your time and attention to this matter.
Enquiries can be made to:
If it seems this has not reached you, <LAWYER NAME> and
their staff will follow up with you in a timely manner for a speedy
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk:
148 resources
Reputation Services and Image Removal
DMCA Defender:
Revenge Porn Support Organizations
Army of She:
Ban Revenge Porn:
Crash Override Network: Combating Online Hate: http://www​
End Revenge Porn: and http://www​
Women Against Revenge Porn: http://www.womenagainstrevengeporn​
Ch a pt er 5 : I de n tit y T h e f t
Fix credit reports:
IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039:
IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit: 1.800.908.4490
Social Security Administration fraud hotline: 1.800.269.0271
Wipe or overwrite the drive or memory on your phone: Blancco; http://
Antitheft Tracking Apps
resources 149
Where’s My Droid:
FTC Identity Theft Report
To create:​
To file:
Questions: 1.877.IDTHEFT (438.4338)
Place a Fraud Alert and Get Copies of Your Credit Reports
Equifax: 1.800.525.6285
Experian: 1.888.397.3742
TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289
Place a Security Freeze on Your Credit
Ch a pt er 6 : How to Sh a r e
Social Media Privacy Settings
settings/; (for more information
on managing and securing your account);
150 resources
Photo Sharing Site Privacy Settings
Ch a pt er 7: Pe opl e - Se a rch W e bsit e s
Find Tracking Companies
Ghostery ( With their free software download, every time you go to a website, a pop-up window tells you all the
companies that are grabbing your data. This site tells you only what Google, Yahoo!, BlueKai,
Bizo, and eXelate know, but it also lists more than 300 tracking companies and helps you opt out of being tracked by them.
People-Finder Sites
Opt Out of Data Mining
There isn’t one single clearinghouse where you can put yourself on a “do not
track” list, but you can opt out of data mining by all members of industry
Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising of the
Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA):
Do Not Track:
resources 151
Mobile App Tracking:
Network Advertising Initiative:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a constantly updated page of
people-search information brokers, their removal policies, and links to
all removal and opt-out pages (
The mail template below is one I’ve used with success on multiple peoplesearch websites via email, fax, and postal mail (first, see if you’re listed):
As per your privacy policy, please remove my listing from your
a. First name: <YOUR FIRST NAME>
b. Last name: <YOUR LAST NAME>
c. Middle initial: <YOUR MIDDLE INITIAL>
e. Current address: <YOUR ADDRESS>
f. Age: <YOUR AGE>
Thank you for your assistance.
Ch a pt er 8 : Dati ng a n d Se x y tim e
Sample in-person safety guidelines for online dating: http://www​
Browser Plug-ins and Extensions
Adblock Plus: Blocks ads and tracking for most advertisers; https://
AVG PrivacyFix: Manages all social media privacy settings; https://
Blur: Blocks tracking, password management, disposable email
addresses, and much more;
152 resources
BugMeNot: Bypasses the sign-in on websites that require your info to
simply read a page;
Cocoon: Blocks tracking, offers disposable email addresses; https://
Disconnect: Blocks Facebook tracking;
Do Not Track:
DuckDuckGo: A nontracking search engine;
Ghostery: Alerts you to bugs, tracking, and ad networks on sites you
visit but can be overwhelming and controversially resells anonymized
user metrics;
HTTPS Everywhere: Enables encryption automatically on sites that
support it;
Browser Security Settings
Chrome: Settings4(Show advanced settings) Privacy
Firefox: Preferences4Privacy
Internet Explorer: Tools4Internet Options4Privacy
Safari: Preferences4Privacy (and Preferences4Security)
Safari mobile: Settings4Safari4Privacy & Security
Ch a pt er 9 : Ni nja T r ick s
Find your current IP address:
PO box application:
VPN, reliable reviews:
Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts
Experian:; http://experian​
resources 153
TransUnion:; http://fraud​
Equifax:; https://www.alerts
Prepaid Credit Cards/Gift Cards
Masked cards (unique, disposable credit cards): MaskMe; http://www​
OpenPGP Encryption
How it works:;; “PGP Installation and Use For Dummies,” http://
Browser extension: Mailvelope;
Open source alternative:
How it works:​
Chat/IM software clients that come with OTR: Adium, https://
adium​.im/; Xabber,; TextSecure, https://; ChatSecure,
Chat/IM software client that supports OTR plug-ins: Pidgin; https://
Recommended Privacy Apps
154 resources
RedPhone and Text Secure:
Silent Circle: and
Tor (The Onion Router)
Project site:
How it works:
Apps that use Tor: Orbot for Android;
Google Voice:
Ch a pt er 10 : I H at e Pa ss wor d s
Password Generators
Password Managers
Password Safe:
Splash ID Safe:
1Password, 138, 139
419 scam, 104
Abine, 65
account-recovery emails, 36
AdBlock Plus, 114
address book, transferring to new email
account, 46
advanced privacy and security
for credit cards, 120–121
data silos, 130–131
encryption, 123–125, 126–127
freezing credit, 121–122
for IP addresses, 128–130
for mailing addresses, 122–123
overview, 119–120
for phone numbers, 123
privacy apps, 127–128
private chats, 126
data mining, 95–98
selling personal information,
on social media sites, 86
Amazon, 32–33, 38
American Counseling Association, 55
American Psychological Association, 55
antitheft apps, 14, 77–78
antitracking plug-ins and extensions, 5
encryption, 36
Honan, Mat, 32–34
recovering after hacking attacks
on, 38
antitheft, 14, 77–78
installing on phones, 91–92
instant personalization, 84–85
Prey, 77–78
privacy, 127–128
privacy settings, 13, 92
security protection, 127–128
used by Facebook, 88
automatic form filling, 113
autoreply, setting up, 46
autoresponder, setting up, 46
AVG PrivacyFix, 114
email and address book from
old accounts, 46
personal data, 35–36
restoring data from, 39, 40
banking information
account numbers, 23
data breaches, 41–42
billing accounts, data breaches of, 41, 42
BitLocker program, 36
black market, value of personal
information on, 31–32
blaming victims for harassment, 50–51
Blancco, 79
blocking cookies, 113
Blur, 115, 55
antitracking plug-ins and
extensions for, 5
cookies, 110, 113
deleting files, 111–112
Do Not Track request, 113
encryption, 126–127
leaving no trace online, 111
password managers, 14
plug-ins and extensions, 114–115
privacy protections, 107–108
156 index
browsers, continued
private browsing, 111, 112–113,
search engine tracking, 109–110
security patches, 107–108
VPNs, 109
brute-forcing, 134
BugMeNot, 115, 123
businesses, alerting to identity theft,
cache, clearing, 111
camera app, 92
cameras, taping over, 11–12
Chaos Communication Congress (CCC),
chats, private, 126
check-ups, privacy, 4, 13, 82–83, 107
Mailvelope extension, 124–125
privacy settings, 107, 108, 112–113
private browsing, 111
clearing browser history, 111
Clooney, George, 141
cloud services, backing up to, 36
Cocoon, 115, 130
Comcast, 40–41
comments, posting, 83
disposing of, 92–94
identifying privacy invasions on,
theft of, 77
contacts, backing up, 35–36
cookies, 110, 113
copyright infringement claims, 62
corporate greed, 2
CrashPlan, 35–36
credit bureaus
fraud alerts, 42, 72
freezing credit, 121–122
ordering credit reports, 73
credit cards
data breaches, 41–42
disposable, 24, 121
hacking with numbers, 32–33
prepaid, 120–121
on red list, 23
security techniques for, 120–121
credit reports, ordering, 73
cyberstalking, 58–59, 124
data breaches, financial information
leaked in, 41–43
data brokers, 31–32
data mining
advertising, 96–98
cookies, 110
overview, 95–96
Target, 95
data remanence, 93
data silos, 130–131
dating websites
adding dating partners to social
media sites, 105–106
making smart profiles, 104–106
overview, 103–104
safety guidelines for meetings, 107
scammers on, 104
screening out scammers and
stalkers, 106–107
files, 111–112
information from mobile devices,
social media profiles, 86
Deschanel, Zooey, 119
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
(DMCA), 61, 62–63
Disconnect, 115
disposable credit cards, 121
disposing of old mobile devices, 92–94
DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright
Act), 61, 62–63
domestic violence restraining order, 59
Do Not Track request, 113
index 157
downloaded files, clearing list of, 113
drive-by download, 108
“driving while black,” 49
DuckDuckGo, 115
Dunham, Lena, 133
eBay, recovering after hacking
attacks on, 38
account-recovery, 36
autoresponders, 46
changing provider after services
are hacked, 43–48
choosing provider, 44–45
encryption, 124–125
Google Custom Alert
notifications, 5
notifying contacts of change in
address, 47–48
phishing, 75–76
reacting to hacking attacks on, 37
security breaches, 43
sending personal messages to
mailing lists, 26
setting up forwarding, 45–46
transferring address book to new
account, 46
updating online accounts with
new, 46
using different addresses for
different online accounts, 4
using on dating websites, 105
emotional damage
caused by harassment, 54–56
caused by privacy violations, 52
monitoring of Internet
activities, 26
password policies, 136–137
of email, 124–125
of hard drives, 36
of Internet activity, 126–127
of private information, 123–124
VPNs, 129
End Revenge Porn, 57
Equifax, 42, 72, 121–122
erasing files completely, 111–112, 55
exes, attacks by, 28–30
Experian, 42, 72, 121–122
advertising, 86, 98
apps used by, 88
Chat, 126
checking in on, 89
data silos, 130–131
deciding what to share, 83–85
deleting profiles, 86
instant personalization, 84–85
linking accounts, 34–35
location information in photos, 89
privacy settings, 87–89
profile information, 88
recovering after hacking attacks
on, 38
fake websites, 75
favoriting content, 83
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
website, 41, 73, 74
backing up, 35–36
erasing completely, 111–112
printing sensitive, 111
FileVault program, 36
filing Identity Theft Reports, 73
financial information, data breaches of,
41–43. See also identity theft
Mailvelope extension, 124–125
privacy settings, 107, 112–113
private browsing, 111
firewall, acting as, 14–15
Flickr, 34–35
forms, automatic setting for, 113
forwarding email, 45–46
158 index
fraud alerts, placing, 42, 72, 122
freelancers, outsourcing content
removal to, 64–66
freezing credit, 121–122
friending considerations, 84, 85
FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
website, 41, 73, 74
geolocation data in photos, 89
Ghostery, 115
gift cards, 120–121
Gmail password, 135
cyberstalking, 124
Custom Alert, 5, 62
Dashboard, 90
Hangouts, 126
Mailvelope extension, 124–125
managing profile, 90–91
privacy check-up, 4
privacy settings, 89–92
recovering after hacking attacks
on, 38
reverse image searches, 61
search engine tracking, 109–110
using different services to avoid
hacking, 35
Voice, 24, 123
managing profile, 90–91
overview, 89–90
privacy settings for phones, 91–92
green list, 24–25
danger of linking accounts, 34–35
encrypting hard drives, 36
financial information leaked in
data breaches, 41–43
Honan, Mat, 32–34
online services, 40–41
overview, 31–32
PII, 32–34
reacting to attacks, 36–37
recovering accounts after, 38–40
using different services to avoid, 35
whois privacy, 34
harassment. See also removing
private content
of author, 58–59
blaming victims for, 50–51
emotional reaction to, 53–54
legal and psychological support,
recovering from, 50–53
tracking on spreadsheet, 66–67
hard drives
backups on secure, 35–36
disposing of, 92
encrypting, 36
recovering data from, 39, 93,
wiping, 78–79
Hilton, Paris, 23, 135
history, clearing browser, 111
home addresses
locking down personal
information, 21–26
using post office boxes instead of, 5
Honan, Mat, 32–34, 39
https, 126–127
HTTPS Everywhere, 115
identity theft
alerting businesses, 73–74
antitheft tracking apps, 77–78
contacting IRS, 73
data breaches, 40–42
deleting information from mobile
devices, 78–79
emailing photos of IDs, 13–14
Identity Theft Report, 73
immediate actions to take, 72
lack of security, 2
ordering credit reports, 73
overview, 31–32, 69–70
phishing attacks, 75–76
index 159
phone or computer theft, 77
placing fraud alerts, 72
preventing, 74–75
red alert list, 22–23
signs of, 70–72
Identity Theft Reports, 73
data breaches, 42–43
emailing photos of, 13–14
opting out of people-finder
websites, 101
Incognito Mode, Chrome, 114–115
inference, 135
information-sharing guidelines, 25–26
Instagram, 34–35, 89
instant personalization, 84–85
Intelius, 99
Internet-based VoIP (Voice over
Internet Protocol) phone
numbers, 5
Internet Explorer, Microsoft, 107–108,
intimate photos. See private content
IP addresses
Cocoon, 130
security techniques, 128–130
VPNs, 109–110, 129–130
IRS, contacting, 73
Johansson, Scarlett, 31
Jordan, Michael, 69
keyloggers, 117
Kutcher, Ashton, 6
deleting information from, 78–79
disposing of, 92–94
identifying privacy invasions on,
locking, 5, 12–13
theft of, 77
LastPass, 138, 139
laws regarding private content, 56–57
legal support for harassment victims
fighting back, 56–57
minors, 63
overview, 51
restraining orders, 58–59
Without My Consent, 54–55
liking items, 83
linking accounts, avoiding, 34–35
location data
phone settings, 91–92
in photos, 89
locking mobile devices, 12–13
Lydon, John, 95
mailing addresses, 122–123
Mailvelope extension, 124–125
malware, 76, 108
Masked Card, 121
MaskMe, 121
meeting dates, safety
guidelines for, 107
as stalking victims, 28
as targets, 7
women going online as, 7
Internet Explorer, 107–108,
Outlook, 46
recovering after hacking
attacks on, 38
Windows encryption, 36
Windows safety updates, 108
minors, removing private content,
mobile devices. See also laptops;
phones; tablets
deleting information from, 78–79
disposing of, 92–94
locking, 12–13
160 index
National Association of Social
Workers, 55
National Security Agency (NSA),
Nigerian bank scam, 104
ninja tricks. See advanced privacy and
security techniques
Off-the-Record (OTR) messaging, 126
online accounts
double-checking privacy
settings, 13
linking, 34–35
maintaining after harassment, 60
recovering after hacking attack,
37, 38–40
updating with new email
addresses, 46
using different email
addresses for, 4
online privacy. See also advanced
privacy and security
acting as firewall, 14–15
antitheft apps, 14, 77–78
locking mobile devices, 12–13
losing, 8–9
opinions on sharing information, 6
overview, 1–2
password managers, 14
privacy check-ups, 4, 13
as a right, 8
sending photos of IDs, 13–14
taking control of, 3
taping over webcams, 11–12
targets and nontargets, 6–8
threats to, 9–10
tips for, 4–5
online services
information leaks, 2
recovering after hacking attack,
using different services to avoid
hacking, 35
“online while female,” 49
OpenPGP email encryption, 124–125
opting out of people-finder websites,
OTR (Off-the-Record) messaging, 126
Outlook, Microsoft, 46
outsourcing content removal, 64–66
overlay network, 128
overwriting hard drives, 78–79
password locks, 5, 12–13
password managers, 14, 46, 137–139
passwords, 133–134
changing after devices are
stolen, 77
changing after services are
hacked, 40–41, 74
password managers, 137–139
saving on browsers, 14
sharing, 135–137
stolen, 134–135
strong, 137–138
PayPal, 38, 41–42
people-finder services
advertising, 95–98
dangers in, 98–99
opting out of, 100–101
overview, 10
removing information from, 74
scanning IDs, 13–14
sources of information, 99–100
personal identification number (PIN),
personally identifying information
(PII). See also identity theft
dating websites, 104–106
green list, 24–25
hacking with, 32–34
information-sharing guidelines,
overview, 21–22
people-finder services, 98–100
index 161
red alert list, 22–23
yellow alert list, 23–24
PGP encryption, 124–125, 126
account-recovery emails, 36
avoiding attacks, 75–76
compromised webcams, 12
phone numbers
importance of privacy, 26–28
information-sharing guidelines,
Internet-based VoIP, 5
locking down personal
information, 21–26
overview, 17
password authentication, 135
security techniques, 123
sharing, 17–18
temporary, 123
worst-case scenario, 28–30
deleting information from, 78–79
disposing of, 92–94
firmware updates, 91
installing apps on, 91–92
locking, 12–13
malware attacks through text
messages, 76
password locks, 5
privacy settings for, 91–92
remotely wiped, 32–34
theft of, 77
wiping, 78–79, 93–94
photos. See also removing private
backing up, 35–36
for dating profiles, 105
Google privacy settings, 90
of IDs, emailing, 13–14
intimate, 50, 56–57
location information in, 89
posting, 83
psychological damage caused by
privacy violations, 52
taping over webcams, 11–12
tracing privacy violations, 51
physical danger, protection from, 58–59
PII. See personally identifying
information (PII)
PIN (personal identification number),
police reports, 51
posting content, 83–85
post office boxes, 5, 123
prepaid credit cards, 120–121
Preview My Profile Facebook page,
Facebook, 87
Prey, 77–78
printing sensitive files, 111
privacy. See also advanced privacy and
security techniques; online
apps, 127–128
check-ups, 4, 13, 82–83
companies, hiring, 65
laws, 20
policies, reading, 98
for apps, 92
Facebook, 87–89
Google, 89–92
Google+, 90
for phones, 91–92
social media websites, 51,
82–83, 84
violations. See also removing
private content
blaming victims for, 50–51
emotional reaction to, 53–54
fighting back, 56–59
legal and psychological
support, 54–56
overview, 49–50
preventative maintenance,
recovering from harassment,
restraining orders, 58–59
162 index
private browsing, 111, 112–113,
private content. See also removing
private content
controlling, 18
legal support for harassment
victims, 56–57
preventative maintenance, 66–67
private spaces and activities,
psychological damage caused by
privacy violations, 52
private spaces and activities, 18–21
prizes in exchange for contact
information, 26
psychological damage
caused by privacy violations, 52
support for harassment victims,
50–51, 54–56
Psychology Help Center, American
Psychological Association, 55
Queen Latifah, 49
Rape, Abuse & Incest National
Network, 56
reacting to hacking attacks, 36–37
red alert list, 22–23, 105
removing private content
choosing support system for, 61
general discussion, 59–60
minors, 63–64
outsourcing, 64–66
personally, 60–63
takedown requests, 60–61
renting mailboxes, 123, 64–65
reputation services, 52, 64–65
restraining orders, 58–59
reverse image searches, 61
right to privacy, 8
Safari, 112–113
Safari Mobile, 112–113
safety guidelines for meeting dates, 107
scammers, 104, 106–107
scanning IDs, 13
Schmidt, Eric, 6
scraping, 86
SD cards, wiping, 79, 94
search engine tracking, 109–110
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), 45
breaches, 2, 74
for credit card, 120–121
data silos, 130–131
encryption, 123–127
freezing credit, 121–122
for IP addresses, 128–130
for mailing addresses, 122–123
patches for web browsers, 107–108
phone numbers, 123
privacy apps, 127–128
security protection apps, 127–128
security questions on websites, 23
selling personal information, 10, 26, 86
sensitive information
deleting, 111–112
intimate photos, 50
keeping on home computers, 26
printing files, 111
Sevigny, Chloë, 81
Sex Pistols, 95
sexual photos and video. See also
removing private content
controlling, 18
legal support for harassment
victims, 56–57
private spaces and activities, 18–21
psychological damage caused by
privacy violations, 52
sexual value, judging women on, 7
sharing content
advertising, 86
deciding what to share, 83–85
index 163
disposing of old devices, 92–94
Facebook privacy settings, 87–89
Google privacy settings, 89–92
overview, 81–82
privacy check-ups, 82–83
sharing passwords, 135–137
shoulder surfing, 74, 134, 138
SIM cards, 94
Skype, 123
Snapchat, 27–28
Snowden, Edward, 123
social engineering, 134–135
social media websites
adding dating partners, 105–106
advertising, 86, 98
avoid linking accounts, 34–35
checking in on, 89
deciding what to share, 83–85
deleting profiles, 86
Facebook privacy settings, 87–89
Google privacy settings, 89–92
instant personalization, 84–85
location information in photos, 89
maintaining accounts after
harassment, 51, 60
predatory behavior through, 2
privacy check-ups, 82–83
privacy settings, 5, 7, 82–83
selling personal information, 10,
sharing content on, 81–82
viewing profiles as someone else,
5, 82
Social Security Administration fraud
hotline, 73
Social Security numbers,
compromised, 42
spreadsheets, tracking harassment on,
spyware, 108
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), 45
reputation services, 64
restraining orders, 58–59
screening out of dating services,
worst-case scenario, 28–30
stealing passwords, 134–135
stickers for taping over webcams, 11–12
strong passwords, 137–138
Swift, Taylor, 103
deleting information from mobile
devices, 78–79
disposing of, 92–94
identifying privacy invasions on,
locking, 5, 12–13
photos, 88
posts, 85
takedown requests, 60–61, 62–63
taping over webcams, 11–12
targets, 6–8
Target store, 95, 97–98
Tech Savvy Therapists, 56
temporary phone numbers, 123
test of online privacy, 4, 13
text messages, malware attacks
through, 76
antitheft apps, 14
of mobile devices, 13
of passwords, 134–135
therapists, 50–51, 55–56
threats, personal, 58–59
threats to online privacy, 9–10
throwing out old devices, 92–94
Tor (the onion router) tool, 128–129
TransUnion, 42, 72, 121–122
traveling, privacy violations while, 136
TSA checkpoints, 136
instant personalization, 84–85
linking accounts, 34–35
recovering after hacking attacks
on, 38, 39
164 index
updates, posting, 83
updating online accounts with new
email addresses, 46
upvotes, 83
US border agents, 136
vacation responder, setting up, 46
videos, posting, 83. See also private
content; removing private
virtual private networks (VPNs), 109,
viruses, 108
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
phone numbers, 5
web browsers
antitracking plug-ins and
extensions for, 5
cookies, 110, 113
deleting files, 111–112
Do Not Track request, 113
encryption, 126–127
leaving no trace online, 111
password managers, 14
plug-ins and extensions, 114–115
privacy protections, 107–8
private browsing, 111, 112–113,
search engine tracking, 109–110
security patches, 107–108
VPNs, 109
webcams, taping over, 5, 11–12
websites. See also social media websites
advertising, 96–98
encryption, 126–127
phishing, 75
privacy settings for ownership
information, 33, 34
prizes for contact information, 26
Weidman, Georgia, 76
Whedon, Joss, 17
whois lookup privacy, 33, 34
Wilde, Olivia, 1
Windows, Microsoft, 36, 108
wiping hard drives, 78–79, 92
Without My Consent, 54–55, 57
Wolf, Cassidy, 11, 12
blaming victims for harassment,
change in role, 2
emotional reaction to harassment,
going online as men, 7
legal and psychological support for
harassment victims, 54–56
psychological damage caused by
privacy violations, 52
recovering from harassment,
as stalking victims, 28–30
as targets, 6–8
victims of hacking, 49–50
Internet access, 26
password policies, 136–137
Yahoo!, 39
yellow alert list, 21–22, 23–24, 105
Zuckerberg, Mark, 6
S h e lv e in : C o m p u t e r s / G e n eral
In The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, award-winning author and
investigative journalist Violet Blue shows you how women are targeted
online and how to keep yourself safe. Blue’s practical, user-friendly
advice will teach you how to:
• • • • • • Delete personal content from websites
Use website and browser privacy controls effectively
Recover from and prevent identity theft
Figure out where the law protects you—and where it doesn’t
Set up safe online profiles
Remove yourself from people-finder websites
Violet Blue is an investigative tech reporter for ZDNet, CNET, Engadget, and CBS News,
and an award-winning sex writer and columnist. She is also a member of the Internet
Press Guild and an advisor for Without My Consent. She currently maintains a sexuality
blog at and can be found on Twitter, @violetblue.
$17.95 ($20.95 CDN)
violet blue
Even if your privacy has already been compromised, don’t panic.
It’s not too late to take control. Let The Smart Girl’s Guide to
Privacy help you cut through the confusion and start protecting your
online life.
the smart girl’s guide to privacy
The whirlwind of social media, online dating, and mobile apps can
make life a dream—or a nightmare. For every trustworthy website,
there are countless jerks, bullies, and scam artists who want to harvest
your personal information for their own purposes. But you can fight
back, right now.
violet blue
the smart
girl’s guide
to privacy
practical tips for staying safe online
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