What Is Doxing & How Does It Affect Your Privacy? [MakeUseOf Explains]

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what is doxingInternet privacy is a huge deal. One of the stated perks of the Internet is that you can remain anonymous behind your monitor as you browse, chat, and do whatever it is that you do. However, did you know that your real life identity can be compromised based on your Internet persona? It’s called “doxing” and it’ll sneak up on you without your knowledge.

So, what is Doxing? Doxing can affect anyone. Nobody is outside the possibility of being doxed. How much of your real life information is on the Internet? Even the smallest slice of personal data can come back to bite you in the rear. Real name, phone number, email address – anything.

Sound like fearmongering? In one sense, it is. You’ve probably never heard of someone who’s been doxed. But that doesn’t mean you’re immune. Let’s take a closer look at what doxing is, exactly, and then I’ll show you what you can do about it.

Doxing 101

what is doxing

Doxing is a term that describes the process of obtaining or deducing information about a person based on a limited set of initial information. Or in layman’s terms, doxing is the act of searching around on the Internet for someone’s personal details. Another way to view doxing is to see it as taking a piece of information (e.g., email address) and identifying someone based on that.

The term “doxing” derives from “document tracing” which means to gather documents on a particular person or company to learn more about them. In the age of the Internet, doxing is more like social engineering – gathering information on someone using publicly available sources.

How Doxing Affects You

how does doxing work

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Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably doxed someone at some point in your life. Remember that party a few years back and you met that really interesting person but you only caught their first name and their profession? Later that night, you went home, hopped on Google, and did a bit of searching to find out who they were.

Okay, maybe it didn’t go exactly like that, but you know what I mean. Most of you have searched for people’s identities using publicly available information, like search results and Facebook profiles. And even if you did dox someone, your intentions were likely innocent.

But if you were able to dox someone else, imagine how many people could be doxing you. Not everyone performs a dox with good intentions in mind.

Recently, Reddit experienced some controversy surrounding a moderator who was doxed. This user was purported to be extremely careful with his usernames and his Internet identity, yet even then someone was able to identify him for who he was. How careful are you with your information?

Consider your Facebook profile. It contains a lot of information on you: your name, birthday, location, friends and family relations, work history, photo albums, schooling information, religious and political affiliations, and more.

And even if your Facebook privacy settings are maxxed out, you’re not as secure as you think. Even if someone got hold of just one thing about you, they could identify you through the Internet.

Protecting Yourself Against Doxing

what is doxing

So what can you do to best protect yourself against doxing attempts? First, here are some of the most commonly targeted pieces of information that can be freely gleaned from the Internet and used to identify you:

  • Full name
  • Gender, birthday, and age
  • Location
  • Email addresses
  • IP addresses
  • Usernames
  • Social networking profiles
  • Websites and blogs

Whenever possible, keep these information bits private and hidden. Sometimes you can’t, but whenever possible, do it. As for specific steps that you can take, here are some of the more effective ones:

Make All Internet Profiles Private

This means that you need to go on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and whatever else search engine and type in your usernames, your full name, your email addresses, etc. Pretend as if you were doxing yourself. Find all the instances of your data online, then go and make those profiles private! If you can, delete them.

Maximize Social Network Privacy Settings

Tina once compiled a list of 5 must-know critical Facebook privacy tips. Live by those tips. Set as much as you can to private. If there are social networking sites you no longer use, delete or disable those profiles. Organize your information and don’t post any sensitive information in your profile fields.

Create Multiple Usernames & Email Addresses

If you like to play video games, use a separate username for video game accounts. If you participate in forums, use a public username that you’ll only use for forums. When it comes to online banking, bill payments, loan statements, use a different username that is never public. Make it so that it’s really difficult for people to cross-reference you across multiple sites. Apply the same line of thought to email addresses.

Don’t Make Enemies

The people who are most likely to dox you in a malicious way are those who have something against you. Common sense, I know, but it’s easy to think that you can hide behind Internet anonymity and get away with being a jerk. Don’t be a jerk, don’t be a troll, don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t do or say in person. Basically, don’t give anyone a reason to dox you in the first place.

For more information, you may want to check out Aaron’s post on whether or not you share too much information on the Internet.

But at the end of the day, you must surrender to the fact that if you do anything on the Internet, you will always leave a trail. The goal is to leave as small and inconspicuous of a trail as you can so that the trail is difficult to follow back to you. Hopefully now you know how to reduce the likelihood of you being doxed!

Image Credits: Black and White Via Shutterstock, Magnifier Via Shutterstock, Hiding Man Via Shutterstock, Bag Over Head Via Shutterstock

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Comments (27)
  • Calie

    someone said they have a certain website. they use their credit card and they type in an ip, and it searches for exact personal info. i have verizon fios, and i dont know if this is possible or not, but i am very much panicing. if someone could please tell me how the heck to protect myself. this is so creepy. i killed someone on a game and they lost their stuff, and they said they would try to find me using their credit card, on a website, to find personal info on me!!

    • Joel Lee

      I don’t believe such a service exists. If it does, it’s a scam site that will end up stealing that person’s credit card number. You have nothing to worry about!

    • callie

      If it wasnt a scam what would they posibly find? My personal info? Or my isp info.? The credit card the have isnt theirs..and they said they cud find litterly my personal info. :/ im axious… Also..i use skype. If i change my ip address. Would they know my new ip if i ddnt connect to skype after i changed ip? Pls answer all ^

  • calie

    Can someone dox me over skype even tho they dont know anythng but fake info??? what if i dont have facebook? They only know my fake name and my 5 yr old daughter real name. If i change my ip could they still track me? Help?? Please?

    • Joel Lee

      You don’t need to be too worried. Fake information won’t lead back to you and if it’s only your daughter’s name, they’ll have a hard time tracking it. It’s only a problem when you combine multiple pieces of information together, like address, phone number, etc. This is why privacy for social networking profiles is so important.

      As long as you don’t give anyone a reason to dox you, you’ll be fine.

    • calie

      They know my name to very similar to my real one. I livewith my parents. They know nothing about us. So final answer they cannot find personal info thru ip? What if they calculate longitude / latitude? Could that help them?

    • Joel Lee

      An IP trace can show you a general sense of where someone is based on their ISP, but they won’t be able to pinpoint your extra house address with it (despite what movies may say). Similarly, I doubt anyone will be able to retrieve your longitude/latitude data.

      Just don’t give out anything more than your name in public online spaces and you’ll be okay.

    • calie

      So theres no way to track me online? Hb thru skype??

  • Guest

    For IP address, use proxies, Tor, or better yet, a relatively inexpensive VPN service. The popular filesharing blog TorrentFreak has some great articles on VPN providers:

    torrentfreak.com/which-vpn-providers-really-take-anonymity-seriously-111007/
    torrentfreak.com/how-to-make-vpns-even-more-secure-120419/

    The multiple email addresses one is a good idea too. Especially when signing up for forums/social sites, subscribing to newsletters or coupon/discount programs, or commenting on articles: don’t use your private email, ever. In fact, I don’t even have a personal email. The only people who I’d let contact me — family, not even “friends” — already know who/where I am and how to do so.

    Social media, meanwhile, is a definite no-no if you want to remain truly anonymous; however, like the Tor website clearly states, Internet anonymity is only partially technical and a lot about behavior. If I did ever sign up for social sites, however, I would not use a photo of myself, and probably only use them to promote anything I’d publish/create (such as a blog), which even still I would put up under a pseudonym. Facebook doesn’t have to be a gathering place; it can be a useful tool for business/promotion too. All that’s needed for a Page is an admin Profile for someone (usually yourself) to log in and manipulate the Page. You can create a dummy Profile with no contact info and set it to 100% private and locked. That way, people only see your public Page and don’t know your personal Profile. I would think that celebrities and other public figures who use Facebook probably do this.

    But both Dragon Mouth and Dane Morgan’s tips are excellent too. Especially Dane’s which is just good human courtesy and common sense. Sadly, it’s another of my 9,999 reasons why I don’t have a social profile. Human civility these days is so quaint and such a relic of the past.

  • Adam Campbell

    kind of creepy is it not. oh wait MUO has my full name…

  • Abba Jee

    shame i never could find myself on internet :S maybe i don’t have doxing skills, thanks for sharing such valuable information with us, Xelent article

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.