Privacy, Security

What is Doxxing?

March 10, 2022 / My Data Removal Staff
A yellow street sign that reads doxxing next 5 miles

It seems like there is new internet jargon every week. It wasn’t that long ago that google wasn’t a verb and people were still talking about the World Wide Web. Doxxing has been around for a while, but has increased in usage recently.

Definition

Doxxing (sometimes spelled doxing) is the malicious sharing of someone’s private personal information through the internet. The term comes from the phrase “dropping dox,” meaning sharing documents, something a hacker would do to expose an adversary online.

What doxxing is or can be

The personal information shared when someone is doxed varies, but it is safe to expect there to be as much personal information as possible:

The doxer can also try to gain access to your accounts through phishing, brute force, or other attacks. They might then share your account or login information or details from your accounts. They could also log in to your email or social media accounts and send emails or make posts as if they were you.

Why doxxing happens

Doxxing can happen for a variety of reasons. It can happen because someone has a problem with you or something you said or did, such as a coworker or someone you disagree with in an online forum. It can often be someone online who recruits friends or followers on social media. It can be a bunch of twelve-year-olds on a discord server or an army of people on reddit. It can also be wannabe hackers looking for sport or practice.

Another reason it happens is because there is information about you online. This includes public records, breached data, people search sites, and data brokers.

Lastly, doxxing happens because it is easy to do and hard to get caught. If a doxer covers his tracks well, he can likely avoid getting caught. And most people aren’t able to press charges or pursue the doxer since it can be expensive or require know-how. Also, while doxxing is almost always malicious, it’s not clear that doxxing is always illegal. If the information shared comes from public sources (such as arrest records, driving violations, marriage certificates, or social media posts) there is no legal protection for the person being doxed.

Examples

Walter Palmer is the dentist that killed Cecil the lion. He experienced severe doxxing, had protesters outside of his office, and had his homes sprayed with graffiti. We in no way condone what he did, but this is an excellent example of people’s personal information being used to shame and harass them.

David Quintavalle was doxed after he was wrongly accused of participating in the capital protests in January 2021. After having his personal information disseminated, he received threatening phone calls and had people show up to his house harassing him. Even though he was able to prove that he wasn’t at the protests, he still was doxed and that paid a toll on him and his family.

Police officers in Portland were doxed during the racial protests in June 2020. Despite the attempts of the Portland police to protect the identities and information of the officers, that information was maliciously made public. As a consequence, they and their families were harassed and concerned for their safety as a result.

How to avoid being doxxed

While it is impossible to guarantee that you will never be doxed, there are some actions to take and strategies to follow that can decrease your odds of being targeted.

The first tip is to make it harder for people to find your personal information on the internet. Most Americans have no idea how much of their personal information is online. You can manually remove your data from people search and data broker websites. Check out our DIY removal guide, or you can have us remove your data for you. Check out our pricing page for more information.

You can reduce the amount of your information that gets online in the first place by changing the way you use or share your personal information. For example, use aliases, masked email addresses, privacy.com credit cards, unique usernames and passwords etc. where appropriate to protect yourself. If you information isn’t online to begin with, you don’t have to worry about anyone finding or exploiting it.

Another tip is to be wise with what you share and how you interact with others on social media or online forums and message boards. It would be wise to be thoughtful about where and how you make controversial statements. Creating a fake account is not a free ticket to saying whatever you want. Good doxers can put the pieces of the puzzle together to track down the true identities of people.

In general, make it a goal to not overshare. The more information you put out there, the more you are giving doxers to work with. Change your privacy settings on all of your social media accounts to private so that fewer people will see them. Commit to never posting certain personal information, such as your birthdate, hometown, employer, etc.

Conclusion

Being doxed is an unfortunate possibility with the internet today. It makes sense to cover your tracks and minimize your vulnerabilities. Taking a few extra steps can help decrease the odds of it happening to you or at least can minimize the damage that can be done.

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