I never really thought I could have my security threatened online, not in ways that would have real life consequences. Not because I am some whiz tech girl, but because I have managed to keep a relatively low profile. I like my privacy and even though I understand that ‘online privacy’ is an oxymoron, I still try to hold onto the semblance of it. And so I have tried my best to keep a low profile, especially on sites such as Facebook.
This is why when I first encountered a potentially dangerous threat online in the form of stalking, I didn’t register it. It all happened when I was in the third year of my bachelor’s degree. I was attending an arts workshop and met this guy who was weirdly trying too hard to be friendly. He started talking to me as to how ‘pious’ and ‘respectable’ I seemed from all my pictures on Facebook. This I found very weird and made mental note to avoid him always. The pictures he was talking about were the ones taken with my consent at different student conferences I attended. It just irked me that not only did he assume me to be a certain way (doesn’t matter if he said his assumption was of me being ‘a good girl’) but he also had the audacity to pass that judgement to me in person.
A few months later he sent me a friend request alongside a message that he needed help regarding assignments. Going against my gut feeling, I accepted his request as he had said that his family member had passed away and therefore had missed out on school. Yet throughout exchange he seemed less and less concerned about assignments and more concerned about sharing cringe worthy ‘fraindship’ messages I had no patience for. Given how uneasy he made me feel, I put him on the ‘restricted’ list on Facebook and thought no more of it.
Then a few weeks later I ended up bringing him up with my university’s counselor, and her response chilled me to my bones. She started off my asking me to block this guy right away and to cut him out of my life completely. She informed me how he displayed textbook stalker tendencies and had serious trouble keeping boundaries. She also told me how other students and staff had experienced being stalked by him (he was currently awaiting a disciplinary hearing I had no way of knowing about!).
This warning clearly freaked me out, and I remember rushing home to analyze the conversations we had to pick up if I had let on personal information. I hadn’t. But my iPad without me realizing had given my exact location! This had happened due to the location permissions being set ‘on’ by default in the settings on the iPad. This really messed me up, for I went through weeks of feeling insecure. What made it worse was that I felt I couldn’t share this with my parents at the time, as I lived in a different city than them. The only thing than that helped me was to set a habit of regularly going over my digital security online and offline. Another thing that definitely helped was to later share this experience with my friends and family including my parents as I derived strength from their experiences and also helped some.