DISCLAIMER: This blog article does not constitute legal advice, and is not to be taken as legal advice. In all matters of a legal nature, discuss these matters directly with an attorney or solicitor licensed to practice law in your community.
The Internet seems to be a sort of virtual Wild West with mudslingers shooting at will and digital sheriffs being stretched in their efforts to keep the law in the land of the nebulous cloud and the seamless source. The future of the Internet is uncharted when it comes to these mudslingers and their posses.
Doxing is when someone’s personal information is published on the Internet and contacting employers and/or businesses employing that person is made to defame, libel, or slander the person.
It’s an approach that, while unethical, isn’t always actionable. When the information shared is publicly available information, the intent of posting the information determines whether it’s actionable.
Publicly available information
For example, information that’s in the phone book isn’t doxing if it’s republished. If you don’t want that information made available, then you have to take steps to protect your information.
Lessen your digital footprint
Contact all businesses and organizations that might have your personal information publicly available, and request that the information no longer be made available. In some cases, this means you will have to provide alternate contact information.
Each time you play a game or answer a quiz online that requires you to give consent to a third-party accessing your information, you’re leaving yourself open to your information being spread far and wide. Every time you post on consumer feedback sites, search engines crawling the Internet will catalogue your comments and reviews even if you go back and delete those comments and reviews at a later date. Those cookies that you agree to when you visit a website or blog? Those cookies are mining your data with your consent.
Bottom line? Use the Internet with the “buyer beware” caveat at the forefront of your interactions, and where possible, try to erase your digital footprint to date.
Alternate contact information
Instead of having your physical home address listed, provide a mailbox address instead. Instead of having your personal phone number listed, provide a cellphone number that isn’t connected to your physical home address. Of course, when it comes to government forms, you’ll still have to provide them with your physical home address but most government forms allow users to include alternate contact information where you can be contacted.
Doxing is illegal
Actually, it isn’t necessarily illegal, although it can be.
People consent to doxing
Technically speaking, each time you have allowed your private information to be published, you are consenting to have it republished elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a phone book or a membership directory or anywhere else on and off the Internet.
When it comes to websites, sometimes the Terms Of Service are such that you don’t even realize you are surrendering more than you thought. Some Terms of Service state clearly that your information is sold to third-parties. When’s the last time you took the time to read the Terms of Service of a website you visit?
Each time you have registered for an account on a website – whether it’s a free or paid account — you are providing the website with your private information. Some of that information is information you knowingly provide, and some of that information is information you have consented to provide by agreeing to use the website.
Watch the free stuff
Even those great free or discounted offers leave you open to providing more personal information than you might otherwise provide. Have you ever answered a small survey for a fast food restaurant so you can get something for free the next time you visit? You give up a lot of information in exchange for that free good item.
Most of the small surveys automatically opt you into databases and you probably don’t realize you’ve opted into those databases.
Reputable businesses don’t do that
Except that reputable businesses usually do exactly that: They gather your personal information with permission and then they share that information with other companies. When you register a product or file a product’s warranty with the manufacturer, you’ve agreed to have the company not only contact you in the future, but to sell your information to third parties. Surprise!
Last but not least
The use of P2P networks is one that’s been discussed on this blog a number of times. I don’t condone illegal downloads.
Networks rely on connections between computers. They don’t make a pit-stop at a server where the information is stored. Networks open the uploader and downloader to each other which is implied consent to make personal information available to each other.
Doxing seems to be the wave of unethical angry people with a bent on wreaking revenge for some real or perceived slight. As much as possible, don’t give such people a foothold into your life.
Keep your own business website and/or blog as dox free as possible, and remove attempts by commenters to post toxicly on your sites.
In a nutshell, posting publicly available information isn’t illegal per se, but if it’s protected information, the charge could wind up being one of identity theft or criminal harassment or stalking.