The advent of the internet made it possible for each of us to leave behind a breadcrumb trail of information about us that otherwise should have been private. If that information were to fall into the wrong hands, it is ridiculously easy for someone to gather that information and drop it in a public portal, and leave us extremely vulnerable and in danger. This process is called doxxing – making someone’s information public on the internet and subjecting them to targeting and harassment.
‘Doxxing’ literally means document dropping. This entails – virtual (email, phone number, etc.) and physical (home address) contact information, or information on friends and relatives of the target, or releasing private documents such as bank statements, scanned copies of ID cards, property records, etc. It could be anything that gives away information about us that should not be consumed by the internet using public.
We are familiar with stories of leaked photos and video clips of actresses and other women public personalities that get massive circulation all over the internet. This is a blatant violation of their privacy, and their lives and bodies have been reduced to internet consumption. Doxxing does not only target one individual at a time. An example of mass doxxing is the carelessness with which UIDAI – the Aadhaar issuing body – stores our private information. Earlier this year, a simple Google search put up people’s Aadhaar Card information on display – revealing addresses, contact information, etc. Even children’s Aadhaar details could be divulged, courtesy of Google.
In India, there is no law in place to prevent and/or punish doxxing directly, though there are laws in place against voyeurism (Section 354C IPC and IT Act), divulging sexually explicit content (The IT Act) and obscene content (Section 292 IPC), defamation (Section 499 IPC) and online stalking (Section 354D IPC). Doxxing violates our Right to Privacy (A Fundamental Right) and threatens our Right to Dignity (Article 21 – Constitution of India), and subjects us to harassment and places us in danger directly – all the more reason for doxxing to become a criminal offence in India.
Every time we log into an online portal that requires contact information, we end up storing a little bit of information that makes it easy to track us. Our information gets stored up by Google. The location software on our phone is particularly dangerous, as it gives away our location to a close approximation. Another red flag is Google forms – it saves our names, phone numbers, home addresses, email ids, debit/credit card numbers and our passwords. For a person targeting us, it takes a significant amount of searching and surveilling us online to get access to our private information. They can then gather up this information and drop it in a public online portal for everyone to see. There are websites that store domain information (owner and their contact info). For that to be made public – it only takes a screenshot.
Doxxing is a harrowing process of online harassment. Imagine someone with a vendetta against you having your home address. The internet trolls can have a field day and bomb the target with threats, having availed of their contact information. Besides threats and physical follow up to the threats, our contact information on display also makes us vulnerable to hacking and mismanagement of our private and identity-based documents.
What to do in order to protect yourself (wipe out your digital breadcrumb):
- Set stronger passwords complete with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Never use the same password twice, whatever the reason/website security.
- Two-factor authentication – set up a dual process of verification. For example, use a fingerprint sensor along with a password.
- Make payment transactions in incognito mode.
- Tighten ALL your social media privacy settings.
- Don’t use the login option with Facebook/Google buttons (this gives away info such as current location, occupation, etc.).
- Remove yourself from all search engines (Facebook and Google provide this option).
- Check your Google settings and see how much info that there already is and definitely remove your location from it. Use these links, especially to remove traces of your location – https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and https://www.google.com/maps/timeline. Use this link to remove your content from Google – https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905
- Do away with the use of Google forms and manually input your information every time.
Should doxxing happen to you or someone you know:
- Get together some trusted friends and start reporting all the posts that share your private information. If the posts are many, you will not be able to tackle all of them on your own.
- Contact the required platform’s customer service IMMEDIATELY.
- Reach out to your nearest cyber crime cell.
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Tribuna Salamanca