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Internet safety

This information is for guidance only and may not completely cover your tracks, particularly if your abuser is technically knowledgeable. If you want to be sure that you aren't being tracked online then it's best to access the Internet at work, at a friend's house, or at your local library, on a device that your abuser can't access.

How can an abuser discover your internet activities?

Normally your Internet browser will save information about what you are doing online so that it can make your browsing experience smoother and easier. Images from the websites you've visited, words that you've searched for, and your 'history' (a listing of all the sites and pages you have visited) will be saved to your computer and in some cases may be synced to other devices that use the same logon details. This means that it can be easy for someone with access to your computer or phone to see what you have been doing online.

It's possible to remove this information from your computer to cover your tracks (and we'll explain how to do that below) but there is a risk involved in that as well. For example, clearing cookies may mean that previously-saved passwords are no longer saved (which may alert anyone else using your computer to the fact that cookies have been cleared) and clearing your history may raise suspicion as it will be obvious that you've done it. Some browser manufacturers have realised that this is an issue and now give you an option to just delete, say, the last hour's history, or to delete some kinds of data while leaving others (such as saved passwords) alone.

Private Browsing

The best option is to use private browsing in future. When you are surfing the Internet using private browsing your browser will store information only temporarily and once you close the private browsing window it will be deleted leaving no trace on your computer. Most Internet browsers have a private browsing option (although what they call it may vary). If you don't know the type of browser you are using, see if you can find a Help option on the toolbar or other menu at the top of your browser screen; that should have a drop down menu with an entry saying "About [name of browser]" -- for example, "About Google Chrome". 

Google Chrome calls private browsing "Incognito". To open a private browsing window in Chrome, click on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen and select "New incognito window".

Safari calls private browsing "Private". To open a private browsing window in Safari, click on "File" in the top left-hand corner of the screen and select "New Private Window". 

Mozilla Firefox calls private browsing "Private". To open a private browsing window in Firefox, click on the three lines in the top right-hand corner of the screen and select "New Private Window".

Microsoft browsers (Internet Explorer and Edge) call it "InPrivate". To open a private browsing window in Internet Explorer, click on the "Safety" button in the top right-hand corner of the screen and select "InPrivate Browsing". To open a private browsing window in Edge, click on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen and select "New InPrivate window".

If you are accessing the Internet from a smartphone, there are private browsing apps available for Android and for iPhone.

Remember to close the private browsing window when you are done so that the temporary files and information will be deleted.

How to delete browsing data from your PC

Google Chrome: Read How to clear your browsing history in Google Chrome on How-To Geek. 

Safari: Read How to clear Safari cache on Macworld.

Mozilla Firefox: Read How to clear your browsing history in Firefox on How-To Geek. 

Internet Explorer: Read How to clear your Internet Explorer browsing history on How-To Geek. 

Edge: Read How to clear your browsing history in Microsoft Edge on How-To Geek. 

If you have another browser, Google clear browsing data [name of browser] to find instructions and advice.

Email

Any email you have previously sent will be stored in your Sent Items folder; go to Sent Items and delete emails you don't want anyone else to see. If you started an email but didn't finish it, it might be in your Drafts folder. Go to the Drafts folder to delete it if you don't want anyone else to see it. Remember, though, that most email programs don't immediately delete emails when you hit delete, but rather move them to a folder called (depending on the program) Deleted Items/Bin/Trash and you'll need to delete the items from that folder to remove them completely. 

If there's a risk that your abuser may know how to access your emails, it's a good idea to set up a new email account. Use a provider like Hotmail/Outlook or Yahoo for an account you can access from anywhere, and use a name that is not recognisable as you -- something like frozenpeas@outlook.com. Keep this email address secret.

Toolbars

If you have a search toolbar installed, it will keep a record of the search words you have typed into the toolbar search box. In order to erase all the search words you have typed in, you will need to check the individual instructions for each type of toolbar. For example, for the Google toolbar all you need to do is click on the Google icon, and choose "Clear Search History".

Additional reading

The Network for Surviving Stalking has produced a guide, Internet Safety for Survivors of Domestic Abuse, that offers advice on how to take additional precautions.

They also have a much longer guide, Digital Stalking: a guide to technology risks for victims, that goes through more precautions in more detail (for example, it includes step-by-step instructions for securing your smartphone).

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