Ultimate Internet Safety Guide for Women

Women's internet safety guide

Over the past couple of years, affirmative action movements such as the #MeToo campaign have done an outstanding job of shining a light on the issue of sexual harassment.

They have bought a number of powerful people who were guilty of such crimes, and worse, to justice and done a huge amount to make women feel safer in the workplace and as they go about their daily lives.

But arguably one place where women’s experiences have not improved for the better is online.

On the internet, it is much easier for people to hide behind a veil of anonymity and subject women to all sorts of abuse and harassment. Often there are very few modes of recourse open to women.

It is obviously important to note that a lot of these issues are not faced just by women.

Gay, BAME, transgender, and other minority internet users can also be subjected to similar abuse and harassment. The recent Black Lives Matter movement has even seen online vitriol being turned on straight white male users too.

As far as we are concerned here at VPNCompare.co.uk, all online abuse and harassment is unacceptable and should be condemned without hesitation. But the focus of this guide is women and the particular issues they face.

That said, internet safety crosses both genders, all ages and across all minorities. So even if you're not a woman, you should still find most of this guide helpful and actionable.

There is lots of data on this. The most recent survey as we write this guide, has come from Plan International.

This UK-based development charity surveyed 14,000 15 to 25-year-old girls and found that more than half had been cyberstalked, sent explicit messages and images, or abused online.

They reported that 20% of girls had been forced to leave social media because of the abuse and, as Plan International’s CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen told the Guardian newspaper,

“Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders.”

The issue is certainly not confined to girls and young women either. Female internet users of all ages have reported similar experiences.

In this guide, we are going to look at the issue of online safety for women in more detail.

We will consider the problem of online harassment and abuse and offer some advice and guidance on how to stay safe on various popular social media platforms.

We will also consider the area of online dating and consider the risks of revenge porn and other online sexual activities and how these threats are usually a bigger problem for women than men online.

Another issue we will look at is surveillance and we will dig deeper into how this can develop into stalking and even be used as a tool by coercive and abusive partners.

Lastly, we will look at the broader issue of online privacy and security and offer some top tips on how to stay safe and private online, looking at the issues from a female perspective.

We have done our utmost to consider all the main concerns that female readers have raised with us in this guide. If we have missed something, or if you have any particular issues or concerns of your own, please do leave us a message at the bottom of this page.

We have also included a list of organisations that can help women who have been or are being subjected to online abuse, harassment, or other unpleasant online behaviour online.

You will find this at the bottom of the guide too and any one of these organisations will be happy to talk and offer support with any issues you might be facing.

Part One: Online Harassment

Online harassment

Amnesty International reports that one in five women have experienced online abuse or harassment. There is other data that puts this figure much higher.

‘one in five women have experienced online abuse or harassment'

According to Amnesty, of those who have suffered abuse online, more than a quarter said that it involved threats of either sexual or physical abuse. More than half said the abuse was sexist or misogynistic in nature.

This level of abuse is unacceptable in any society and the impact it can have on its victims is profound.

The same Amnesty survey found that more than half of victims reported feelings of stress or anxiety as a result of the abuse, with 60% having trouble sleeping and almost 70% being reluctant to use social media as a result.

Social media is where this abuse is most prevalent and it is also apparent that their handling of the problems and the tools that they have put in place for victims to report and deal with such abuses are not considered sufficient.

Of the women polled by Amnesty that had suffered abuse on Facebook, just 23% considered the platform’s handling of the issue adequate, while 41% said it was inadequate.

Even this is a better performance than Twitter where a mere 19% were satisfied with their handling and 43% felt it was inadequate.

One example of this was the case of Seyi Akiwowo, a councillor from Forest Gate in London who gave a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels that went viral online.

She received as many as 70 different abuses messages a day on Twitter as a result of this viral video, yet Twitter ignored most of her reports.

“I never heard, ‘we have seen that you have reached out to us…’ they only responded to some of the reports I made. But I had to send reports like three or four times,” she said.

It was only when her case was featured on the local TV news programme London Tonight that Twitter suddenly began to take it seriously and either deleted the abusive tweets or suspended accounts.

This is not an issue that is confined to the UK by any stretch of the imagination. For example, in Australia, the same recent Plan International survey found that 65% of respondents had faced online abuse and harassment.

The World Wide Web Foundation conducted a global survey of women in more than 160 countries. It found that 52% of young women and girls had experienced online abuse.

Their other questions suggested the problem could be even more widespread.

64% of respondents said they knew someone else who had been victims of such abuse and a huge 87% said they felt the problem was getting worse rather than better.

The biggest concern of people in this survey was the sharing of personal images and videos without consent (30%). This was followed by mean and humiliating messages (21%), sexual harassment (20%) and abusive and threatening language (15%).

More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said that the abusive online behaviour they had received had taken place on social media.

So, this is what we are going to focus on in this section of the guide.

Social Media’s gender abuse problem

Last year, the feminist campaign group Level Up conducted a poll which found that 29% of 1,000 female Facebook users had been harassed on the platform.

But the poll dug a little deeper and looked at how the platform handled those people who had been victims. Fifty-two percent of people said that Facebook either dismissed their concerns or told them they were not in breach of their guidelines.

Given this, it is hardly a surprise that 54% of respondents said they had no faith in Facebook to handle online harassment complaints and almost three quarters of people (72%) said the platform needed to hire more moderators.

The recent Plan International survey also identified Facebook as the worst platform for handling these issues. They found that 39% of respondents to their survey had suffered harassment or abuse on the platform.

‘39% of respondents to their survey had suffered harassment or abuse on the platform'

But it is not just Facebook that has a problem.

Its stablemate Instagram was the next-worst performer with 23% of users reporting abuse while another Facebook company, WhatsApp was third with 14%. Snapchat (10%), Twitter (9%) and TikTok (6%) came next.

All of these platforms will claim that they have various policies in place to protect female users. They will argue that they have strict rules about behaviour and any account found to have broken them can be suspended or removed.

They will claim that any posts or images that could be deemed as harassment will be removed and highlight the processes that exist for women to report such activities.

The problem is that, while Facebook and other social media will argue that they are doing all they can, the victims of this harassment clearly disagree.

Abuse and harassment can be a very personal and subjective thing. What one person might consider abuse, may not appear as such to someone else., especially if they don’t know the individual victim personally.

There is little doubt that social media platforms like Facebook could do more.

But equally, they are faced with an impossible task in trying to balance protecting users with permitting freedom and speech and freedom of expression rights. It is impossible for them to prevent all online harassment and abuse.

But there are some steps that individual users of social media sites like Facebook can take to protect themselves from online abuse.

In the following sections, we are going to take a more detailed look at these for each of the most popular social media platforms.

How to protect yourself on Facebook

Protect on Facebook

Case Study: In 2019, CNN reported the case of Aisha Odom, an African-American mother of three from Austin, Texas.

She had used her Facebook account to urge other parents to get vaccinated to help protect people like her brother, who has Crohn's disease and can't receive certain immunizations.

She regular received abusive messages from so-called ‘anti-vaxxers' but one message went much further. It read:

“Can we immunize are [sic] babies from becoming ignorant n*****s like you?” a user wrote to her, spelling out the n-word. “You uneducated t**t, here's something you need to learn…How to slice those wrists correctly. Kill yourself, kill your kids, kill your parents, kill them all.”

This hateful message was followed with an illustrated guide on how to slit your own wrists.

Aisha and her husband found the message frightening, so they reported it to Facebook, which quickly determined that the message violated their standards and that the sender was a repeat offender.

The punishment for sending this horrific abuse was that for 30-days, the person was unable to send messages on the Messenger app. They could continue to use all other Facebook features.

Aisha understandably concluded that,

“calling someone a horrible racial slur and telling them to kill themselves is totally OK with Facebook.”

It was only once CNN approached Facebook about the case that the user was permanently removed from the site.

Sadly, cases like Aisha’s are all too common and, as we have already highlighted above, users report that Facebook is the worst social media platform for tackling online abuse and harassment.

Hopefully, it is something that Facebook will get to grips with in the end and you should certainly report any instances of abuse or harassment on the platform to them, even if you don’t hold out much of them taking it seriously.

But there are also other steps that you can take right now to protect yourself from this type of abuse:

1. Control who can see your profile:

Facebook has become a lot more customisable in recent years and one of the new features they have added is the ability to hide your information and profile from certain people.

You can do this by following these simple steps:

  1. In the upper-right corner of the Facebook homepage, open the More Options menu.
  2. In the panel, tap on Settings & Privacy.
  3. On this tab, you can manage who can and cannot see your posts. You can also determine how people can contact you.
  4. Next click on Settings and Timeline and Tagging. In this section, you can control which other users can post on your wall and who can see posts that you have been tagged in. You can also make it so that any posts in which you are tagged have to be approved by you before being published on your timeline.

Facebook timeline settings

2. Don’t Check In

When you post something onto Facebook, particularly from mobile devices, you now have the option to ‘Check In’. This feature adds a geolocation to your post which lets people know where you are posting from.

As this is optional, it is a good idea not to Check In with any Facebook post if you are worried that it might leaded to an abusive or harassing response.

However, the Check In feature is not the only way that other Facebook users can figure out where you are from your post. Facebook also tracks the locations of all its mobile users and records the data.

You may have noticed that if you visit a store and then soon afterwards adverts for it start popping up on Facebook. Facebook tracks all its users and you can see the data they have collected by using the following method:

  1. Open the More Options menu.
  2. Tap on Settings & Privacy. Click Settings.
  3. Click Location in the panel that opens on the left-hand side.
  4. Click View Location History.
  5. Facebook will require you to re-enter your password at this point, for security reasons.

Facebook location

Once you have done this, it will open up a log and a map that details all of the locations that Facebook has recorded you being in.

If you have had the Facebook app on your mobile device for a long time, this record could stretch back for years.

The good news is that this data is not publicly available but obviously if your Facebook account or your mobile device were to be compromised, it is there for anyone to access.

You can switch off Facebook’s location records to stop it logging your every move. We would strongly advise you to do this.

Just follow these few simple steps:

  1. Click on the three bar menu icon.
  2. Click on Account settings.
  3. Click on Location.
  4. Tap to turn off Location Services.
  5. Below this, move the slider to the left to turn off Location History.

This will stop Facebook from logging future location data but it is also a good idea to delete to existing location data they hold on you as well.

To do this, just follow these few simple steps:

  1. Open the Settings menu.
  2. Click Location in the panel that opens on the left-hand side.
  3. Click View Location History.
  4. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner.
  5. Click on the option to ‘delete your entire history'.
  6. Facebook will require you to re-enter your password to confirm that you want to do this.

3. Restricted Lists

Another useful feature that a lot of Facebook users seem to be unaware of is the Restricted List.

This feature lets you get around the issue of stopping someone from seeing your personal posts without having to de-friend them.

When you place a friend onto your restricted list, it means that they can only see the information that you share publicly on Facebook. If you post content specifically for your friends, they will not be able to see it.

It means that if someone is making you feel uncomfortable but you don’t feel you can remove them as a friend, you can still restrict the type of posts they can see.

4. Report fake accounts

Fake accounts, sometimes also referred to as Imposter Accounts, is a major issue on Facebook. The platform itself estimates that there are around 66 million of these accounts – that about as many as one for every person in the UK.

Sometimes, online abusers will set up a fake account in the name of their victim and use it as a tool to gain access to their friends or family.

They will then use this account to post harmful or embarrassing information or content about you or embarrass and humiliate you in some way.

If you find someone else has set up a fake account in your name, you can report it to Facebook.

The way to do this is quite simple, but if you are blocked from the account yourself, you might need to get a friend to do it for you:

  1. Open the fake account.
  2. Click on the 3 dots icon in top right of the profile.
  3. Select Report.
  4. Select Find Support or report this Profile.
  5. Choose the option ‘Pretending to be someone'.

Facebook report someone option

Facebook is trying to be more proactive in tackling this issue and is using facial recognition technology to scan new accounts for photos that match the holders of existing accounts.

But facial recognition technology is notoriously unreliable and if there is an existing fake account set up, this won’t get scanned, only new ones.

Another way to deter someone from setting up a fake account in your name is to make sure all of your photos are set to private so other people can’t access and use them.

How to protect yourself on Twitter

Protect on Twitter

Case Studies: In 2018, Amnesty International published a report entitled ‘Toxic Twitter’.

This report highlighted just how serious the issue of abuse and harassment had become on the platform. It contained some truly shocking examples, of which we will highlight a couple below:

Laura Bates, UK women’s rights activist on the response to her setting up the Everyday Sexism Project  – “Online abuse began for me when I started [it] before it had become particularly high-profile or I received many entries. Even at that stage, it was attracting around 200 abusive messages per day… These often spike if I’ve been in the media… You could be sitting at home in your living room, outside of working hours, and suddenly someone is able to send you a graphic rape threat right into the palm of your hand.”

Laura Smurthwaite, British political comedian after appearing on a TV debate – “[It] reached a whole new level. In the following 48 hours, I received 165 pages of Twitter abuse. Suddenly it went insane. In that, there were four or five death threats, rape threats, and things like that.”

Danielle Dash, a UK-based writer – “The violence is at the intersection of everything that I am – for example – ‘I’m going to rape you, you black b*tch’. You have the misogyny, and you have the racism and you have the sexual violence all mixed up into one delicious stew of cesspit sh*t.”

It is widely assumed that Twitter is the worst platform for cases of online abuse and harassment… given the public nature of everything that happens there.

But as we have already seen, most major surveys show that it is the Facebook-owned platforms that are where most women experience harassment and abuse.

But that doesn’t mean these are still not a major issue on Twitter too and this is a real problem.

Twitter is a hugely influential platform where politicians, journalists, and campaigners interact on a whole range of important issues.

But abusive behaviour can have a silencing effect on women with victims choosing to stay off Twitter and away from these debates in order to avoid confrontation. This is far from satisfactory and is as a result of Twitter’s failure to deal with these issues when they arise.

‘abusive behaviour can have a silencing effect on women with victims choosing to stay off Twitter'

Matters came to a head a couple of years ago when, in October 2017, the #MeToo movement rose rapidly to global prominence.

Female Twitter users used the hashtag to tell their own stories of harassment and abuse on the site, and elsewhere too, and swiftly Twitter was awash with numerous truly horrific stories.

Like Facebook, Twitter has various processes in place to allow users to report abuse messages and tweets and they can suspend accounts either temporarily or permanently if they breach house rules.

But, like Facebook once more, most users consider these processes to be insufficient and there are numerous cases of harassment and abuse towards women on Twitter going unpunished.

We would still urge women to report all cases of online abuse on Twitter. But there are also a few other steps you can take to protect yourself when using the site:

1. Create separate public and private accounts

It is perfectly permissible to have multiple Twitter accounts and if you use the site for professional reasons or if you have to maintain a public profile, it is a good idea to have separate accounts for this.

The advice we would give is to have a public profile that is accessible to all, so you can use Twitter to its full potential for networking and engaging in public debates.

But have a separate private account for friends and family.

This private account should have the strongest privacy settings enabled. Twitter does not enable any privacy settings by default so you should be aware that you will have to enable these manually.

The best suggestion is to make this private account protected. This means that only your follows can see your tweets and respond to them.

You can do this as follows:

  1. Open your Twitter profile (or create a new one).
  2. Click on More.
  3. Click on Settings and Privacy.
  4. Click on Privacy and Safety.
  5. Click on Audience and tagging.
  6. Choose Protect your Tweets.

Twitter protect tweets

If you already have a Twitter account that you want to protect, you can change the settings now and it will retrospectively safeguard all of your previous tweets too.

Do bear in mind that this will also apply to replies and mentions in other tweets too.

Another possible option is to create an anonymous account. This allows you to be fully engaged with public debate but without having your name or image connected to your account.

This is likely to stem the tide of harassment and abuse but is no use if you need to build or maintain a public profile on an issue.

2. Report or Block harassers

If you are subjected to harassment or abuse on Twitter, one way to stop it is to block the account or accounts that are sending the messages.

Blocking accounts is really simple to do and will stop them from being able to contact you or see your Tweets. To block a Twitter account, all you have to do is:

  1. Select the Menu option in the top right hand corner of a tweet.
  2. Click on Block.

Twitter block

The only problem with blocking is that there is nothing to stop a determined abuser from setting up other accounts and harassing you again. But this is a time-consuming job and you can easily block the new account too.

Another option is to use an app called Block Together.

This will automatically block any account that tries to follow you which has been active for less than 7 days, that has fewer than 15 followers, or that your followers have already blocked.

If you are subject to abuse from a wide range of different people, it is a beneficial tool.

You can also report any abusive messages you receive on Twitter to the platform and they will investigate and take any necessary disciplinary measures they deem appropriate.

While this process has been deemed insufficient by many users, it is still worth doing.

To report an abusive tweet, you just have to follow these few simple steps:

  1. Select the Menu option in the top right hand corner of a tweet.
  2. Click on Report tweet.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to report the tweet.

Twitter report tweet option

The process is quite simple and even though most people will end up having to report abuse more than once before anything is done about it, if you persist, Twitter will do something in the end.

3. Avoid geotagging

It is a good idea for all Twitter users to ensure that the geotagging feature on Twitter is disabled for privacy reasons. But if you are subject to abuse and harassment on the platform, it is especially important.

The good news is that geotagging is a manual process on Twitter. When you compose a tweet, you will see a location button (which resembles a dropped pin) at the bottom. If you click this, your geolocation will be added.

Don’t click it and there is no geotagging information added to your tweet.

Obviously, you also need to be careful not to include any information about where you are in the content of your tweet if you don’t want the world to know.

4. Avoid Doxing

You may not have heard of Doxing before but it is a fairly common way that people can harass other users on Twitter.

It basically involves sharing the personal information of another user, such as their address, phone number, place of employment, banking details, or information on their family members, and encouraging other users to harass them.

The consequences of being doxed can be severe.

Victims will often have to change their email address or telephone number. Some have even had to move to a new house because of the barrage of threats they have received.

Doxing is a form of abuse that anyone using Twitter can fall victim too, but women do appear to be disproportionately targeted. It is used on other platforms too, but the nature of Twitter makes it much more prevalent there.

There are four steps that you can take to minimise the risk of being doxed:

Check what information about you is public

Run an online search about yourself to see what personal information is available in the public domain. You can then take steps to have this information removed or otherwise pushed so far down the Google rankings that it is difficult to find.

Get your data removed from data broker sites

You might find that your data is already available on various online directories. You can go about removing this manually, but it might be easier to use a paid-for site like DeleteMe or PrivacyDuck to remove it all for you.

Check your Email for data breaches

Over the years, many email accounts have been compromised in large-scale and small-scale cyber attacks.

It is quite possible that you don’t even know that your account has fallen victim. You can check for this by using the haveibeenpwned.com tool.

If you have, change your password and also consider adding Two-Factor authentication to your account too.

5. Prevent your own Twitter account from being hacked

There have been plenty of high-profile Twitter hacks over the years and it is a common way that abusers can cause problems for their victims. They can hold accounts hostage and use them to tweet all sorts of things that go public in your name.

To prevent your Twitter account from being hacked, there are a number of simple preventative measure you can take:

Use a strong password – Make sure you have a strong password on your account and consider using Two-Factor authentication as well. We will talk more about good password practice below.

Avoid third-party apps – Be careful about which apps you allow to have access to your Twitter account. Check for the permissions you have already granted and revoke access to any apps you are unsure of.

Avoid shortened URLs – It is quite common to use shortened URLs on Twitter to save on characters. But this is also meat and drink to hackers who can use shortened URLs to link you to fake or malicious sites.

Be careful of these links and don’t click on them from untrusted sources. Alternatively use a service like CheckShortURL to inspect where the link will take you before clicking it.

How to protect yourself on Instagram

Protect on Instagram

Cast Study: In July of this year, Nicola Thorp, a British actor and equality campaigner wrote a column for the Metro newspaper detailing the horrific sexual harassment she had received on Instagram.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of an unsolicited dick pic or two in my time. I laughed them off at first. Then the same man started sending explicit descriptions of violent sexual fantasies he had about me. This included both vaginal and anal rape, choking, putting me in crutches and forcing my mother and father to watch.”

After initially playing down the reality of this horrific content to herself, she reported the messages to Instagram. She received a response saying they did not find the account to be in breach of their community guidelines.

She blocked the abuser but he created another account and continued. She decided to post about the abuse. Then Instagram got in touch and told her that her own post was in breach of their community guidelines.

The details of the abuse received by Nicola is horrific, but the response from Instagram is almost as bad.

Instagram, let’s not forget, is owned by Facebook, the social media site that women regularly deem the worst at handling these issues. Clearly, Instagram is no better than its parent.

Instagram is primarily a visual site and as such, it attracts abuse and harassment of a different kind. Photos put up on Instagram are public by default and anyone can comment on them.

You can send anyone a DM (private message) too, offering another avenue for abuse.

But abuse of your own pictures is only part of the problem. As Nicola alluded to, Instagram users can also be in receipt of all sorts of unsolicited graphic and sexual images.

‘Instagram users can also be in receipt of all sorts of unsolicited graphic and sexual images'

Women are often in receipt of these far more regularly than men.

Such unwanted correspondence is very difficult to avoid entirely, especially if you are an active public figure on Instagram. But there are a few steps you can take to keep online abuse and harassment at arm’s length.

Block abusers

Instagram includes a feature that allows all users to block any account on the site that is abusing them or that they simply don’t want to engage with.

As Nicola found out in the above case study, this doesn’t guarantee that you will be rid of them.

A persistent user can set up a new account and start to harass you again. But a lot of abusers will give up rather than go to all this effort, so it is still worth blocking.

Blocking someone on Instagram is actually quite simple:

  1. Open the account of the person you want to block.
  2. Click on the three dots on in the upper-right hand corner of the screen.
  3. Click Block.

Instagram block

Check your images for identifying information

A simple step to help you avoid harassment on Instagram is to make sure that none of the images you post on the site contain any information that could reveal personal details about you.

Instagram offers a geolocation feature that will automatically tag all your posts with information about where the image was taken. If this feature is enabled, it will tell other users exactly where you are.

We would recommend geolocations are kept disabled by all Instagram users for privacy reasons but if you have had issues with abuse and harassment, it is particularly important.

Equally, if you tag yourself in a restaurant or a pub, the whole world can easily tell where you are and also deduce information about things that you like and identify friends and family.

Don’t include any personal information in your Instagram account

When you set up an Instagram account, you will be asked to provide various bits of personal information as well as linking a mobile phone number to your account.

But if other users gained access to your account, they could see this information. Once they have access, they can use it for all sorts of malicious purposes.

It is, therefore, a good idea to ensure that they cannot access this information. This can be done by not entering it in the first place (some is required to set up an account but not all).

Another way to protect your personal information is to set your Instagram account to private. This is fairly straightforward to do:

  1. Open Instagram.
  2. Go to Settings.
  3. On the Private Account tab, move the slider to the right to enable the feature.

As we have suggested with other social media sites, if you are using Instagram for professional reasons or you need to promote your own public image on the site, consider setting up separate accounts for your public and private personas.

How to protect yourself on LinkedIn

Protect on LinkedIn

Case Study: Last December, the online magazine Vice published a lenghty article on the issue of harassment on LinkedIn.

It cited the case of Nicki Donohoe, a hair and make-up artist from London who says she regularly receives unsolicited flirty messages from men online.

Her strategy is not to respond to these messages and this frequently results in being told to “chill out” or “stop being moody”. Sometimes it is worse. “One guy said he wanted to rape me in an alley and then kill my parents,” she told Vice.

Nicki Rodriquez, a PR executive from Essex told Vice about a very different kind of LinkedIn related abuse.

She explained that her ex-partner had looked at her LinkedIn profile before they were introduced. He then spent their entire relationship punishing her for not living up to what he’d seen online.

LinkedIn always likes to portray itself as being a bit different from the other social media sites. It bills itself as the professional social media site where people can network with people to advance their careers.

As we can see from the case studies above, a lot of people have a very different experience.

LinkedIn’s membership demographic is 57% male and this had played a part in making it a problematic network for women. It is also the social media that that involves giving up the most information about yourself.

Often, people’s entire CV will be up on the site and this means anyone can know a great deal about you before even speaking with you.

‘anyone can know a great deal about you before even speaking with you'

For women, and especially freelance women who might rely on LinkedIn interactions to drum up business, this has the potential to be very dangerous.

LinkedIn also seems to be doing remarkably little to tackle the problem.

They can restrict accounts and do have a system in place for users to report messages. But a lot of the official guidance provided by LinkedIn to its users puts the onus firmly on them and tells them to be on the watch for fake accounts or profiles that use abusive language.

A lot of LinkedIn users feel that this isn’t enough and there are a number of groups that have already been set up to help female users that have been abused or harassed on LinkedIn.

Hopefully, change will be coming sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, there are a few things users can do now to keep themselves safe from abuse and harassment on LinkedIn:

1. Report messages or conversation to LinkedIn

While the LinkedIn process for reporting abuse and harassment have been criticised, they are better than nothing and you should report abuse even if you are not confident it will be handled appropriately.

Reporting a message is a little more convoluted than on other sites but still pretty simple. Just follow these few steps:

  1. Click the Messaging icon at the top of the LinkedIn homepage.
  2. Select the message in question from the list on the left.
  3. Click the More icon in the top right of the conversation.
  4. Select Report this conversation.
  5. Choose an applicable reason from the Why are you reporting this? Menu. Then follow the simple on-screen instructions.
  6. Click Submit to report the message or conversation.

LinkedIn report message

LinkedIn also lets you report posts or comments on the site that are offensive too. You can do this as follows:

  1. Click the More icon in the right corner of the post.
  2. Click Report this post.
  3. Choose the applicable reason from the Why are you reporting this? pop-up window. Then just follow the on-screen instructions.
  4. Click Submit to proceed with reporting the post.

2. Block an abusive LinkedIn user

If a user is persistently abusive to you, you do also have the option of blocking them. This will mean that they can no longer see your profile, messages, or updates. You will have no further interaction with that account on LinkedIn.

As with other sites, there is theoretically nothing to stop them from setting up another account and messaging you again. But equally, there is nothing to stop you blocking that account too.

Blocking accounts on LinkedIn is easy. All you have to do is:

  1. Go to the profile of the person you'd like to block.
  2. Click the More… button below the profile picture.
  3. Select Report/Block from the list.
  4. Select Block [member name] from the What do you want to do? pop-up menu.
  5. Click Block.

3. Limit what the public can see

Suppose the abuse or harassment problem is coming from people who aren’t linked to you. In that case, another option you may want to consider is hiding what information from your LinkedIn profile is available for the public to see.

There are a few optional features that you can adjust here.

Firstly, you can customise your profile to control what non-linked people can see about you as well as what information is visible for people if they search for you on a search engine such as Google.

You can do this by logging into your LinkedIn account and selecting customize your public profile settings. You then just have to toggle the different sections to control what information can and cannot be seen by non-contacts.

One particular feature that female LinkedIn users often appreciate is the ability to change the visibility of your profile photo too. This is set to public by default but in this section, you can change this to be contacts only.

You can also control who can and cannot send you invitations and also switch Open Profile off. This is the feature that lets other LinkedIn users message you without using the InMail feature.

Changing your Open Profile settings is a bit more complex but worth doing if you are getting harassing or abusive messages.

Just follow these few simple steps:

  1. Click the Me icon at the top of the LinkedIn homepage.
  2. Click View profile.
  3. Choose the Edit icon on the right of the screen.
  4. In the Edit intro pop-up window, click the Dropdown icon next to the gold LinkedIn logo.
  5. In the dropdown that appears, switch the toggle next to Open Profile to the left to step people on LinkedIn to contact you directly, even if they aren't connected with you.
  6. Click Save.

Part Two: Online Dating and sex

Women and dating

So far, this guide has focused on social media, which is where the majority of women complain that they have faced online abuse or harassment. We have focused in on the main sites where this abuse occurs and offered some advice on what happens and how to stay safe.

In this section, we will focus on some of the main issues that can occur in another area of the internet where abuse and harassment are sadly far too common; online dating.

Online dating has exploded over the past decade. According to recent research, 31% of all single internet users use online dating sites.

However, there is a big imbalance between male and female users. The data shows that a whopping 61% of online dating users are male, while only 39% are female.

This has actually improved in the past couple of years with 2% more women and 2% fewer men being recorded. But there is still a big divide.

Unfortunately, this demographic imbalance has helped to foster an environment which can be very hostile, abusive, and even present genuine physical risks to women users.

‘helped to foster an environment which can be very hostile, abusive, and even present genuine physical risks'

In this section, we are going to look at some of the main risks for women from online dating sites. It is important to stress that while all of these risks are present when online dating, they are not exclusively found on these platforms.

These issues can also be prevalent on social media and other internet forums too, so even if you are not using online dating sites yourself, it is still worth taking a look through this section.

Catfishing

Catfishing is the term given to people who set up online dating profiles that are built around fake identities. They might use pictures they have lifted off the internet or stolen from other users and are likely to have created a persona that is totally different from reality.

Catfishing can be used as a ruse to persuade women to send personal details, money, or images of themselves.

In the most severe cases, it can involve enticing women to meet up. It is not unknown for these encounters to result in sexual assaults, rapes, and even murders.

The question most people want to know about catfishing is how they can spot a catfisher.

This can be very hard and if the catfisher is dedicated enough, they can create an utterly convincing profile. But there are often a few tell-tale signs that you can look out for.

Social media presence

Even the most anti-social of people will usually have a few friends on social media and images of themselves with others.

Most catfishing profiles will make themselves out to be highly social individuals, but often their social media presence can give away the fact that all is not actually as it seems.

If they don’t have many pictures and have a small number of friends or followers. This can be a red flag. One good test is to look back for their birthday to see how many birthday messages they have received.

If there are fewer than 100 friends, it is worth digging a little deeper and if they have messages coming from just a handful of other accounts, this could be a sign that all is not as it seems.

Disappearing acts

If your contact disappears for extended periods; days or even weeks, this could be a sign they are not what they seem. Regular vanishing acts suggests that there is something else going on in their life.

You can ask them what’s going on and they will probably have a good excuse. But if you find you are not always getting their full attention, it is worth asking yourself why not.

Storytelling

Catfishes are often great storytellers as this is a technique they use to draw people in. But if they keep telling more and more outlandish stories, you have to ask yourself if everything is as it seems.

Look out for inconsistencies in their storytelling and consider whether the excuse they keep coming up with is credible. If it isn’t, they could be hiding something much bigger.

Refusal to do video calls

A common step in internet dating these days is to do a video call on FaceTime or Skype to speak in person before meeting in real life. Most people have access to the technology to do this on their smartphones.

But if your contact is refusing to do this, while still posting images of themselves on the site, you have to wonder why this might be.

If you do manage to have a video call but their end always keeps freezing, hanging and breaking up, this is another red flag.

Getting too serious

A common trend among catfishes is for them to try and progress your relationship too fast. This could be because they are trying to get explicit content from you or because they want to meet in person for other nefarious reasons.

Either way, if you feel things are going too quick or you are being pressured to speed things up and it doesn’t feel right, just take a step back and think why that might be.

Asking for money

If someone you only through a dating site starts to ask you for money, you have to ask yourself why.

Catfishes are often trying to scam people and a simple request for money to buy a train ticket to meet you or a new phone to speak with you can lead to more.

Never send money to anyone you have only met online. If they are who they claim and are serious about liking you and meeting you, they will fully understand.

Too good to be true

If something or someone seems too good to be true, they usually are. Remember, no-one is perfect so if your online date sounds like they are, then you have to ask yourself what’s happening.

If they look amazing, have a great job, and live a celebrity lifestyle, you have to ask why they are online dating and what is the catch. More often than not, you will find that there is one.

Stick with your gut instincts and use your common sense and remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Revenge Porn

Women and revenge porn illustration

Definition

Revenge Porn: “the distribution of private, sexually-explicit images or videos of individuals without their consent” (Source)

Revenge porn is a big problem that is often linked to online dating sites but can be a problem that stems from social media and any relationship that has broken down.

If you are unsure what is meant by the term revenge porn, it usually refers to the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person, without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.

It is a largely online issue but some incidents can involve the sharing of images offline, either via text message or even physical copies.

The internet age and the advent of smartphone devices which are able to take high-quality photos and videos have led to an upsurge in the number of people who are making sexually explicit images of themselves either on their own or with their partner.

Often these images are only intended for private consumption, but when relationships turn sour, these images can be used as a tool for an angry ex-partner to shame you in front of family, friends, and work colleagues.

It can affect internet users of all ages.

A recent report in the Guardian newspaper in the UK found that in 2019, there were 541 cases of revenge porn against underage users reported to police in the UK.

That is just cases reported to the police and just those involving people who are underage.

According to the domestic abuse charity, Refuge, one in seven young women in the UK have received threats that intimate photos will be shared without their consent.

The issue overall is much bigger and has been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the government’s specialist helpline for victims of revenge porn had received more than 2,000 calls in the first seven months of the year, a 20% increase on the number of calls received in the whole of 2019.

Case Study: In September last year, the Guardian published an account of the experiences of Ruth King (not her real name) which explicitly detailed the full horror of being a victim of revenge porn.

She received a call from a friend to tell her that workers were sharing pornographic videos featuring her at the factory where her husband worked. Then a builder-friend said they were being shared by workers on his building site too.

Her ex-partner had posted seven videos featuring Ruth on the internet and by the time she found out, they had already been shared tens of thousands of times.

Living in a small rural community, it didn’t take long for most of her acquaintances to be sent them.

The man responsible had been abusive to Ruth and had shown her the videos on the TV when they had lived together and threatened to make them public if she left him.

Fortunately, Ruth had the courage to stand up to his threats but this still didn’t equip her for the impact the videos would have.

She managed to get them removed but by that point, thousands of people had seen them and even distant acquaintances would bring them up when they saw her.

In 2017, it all became too much and Ruth attempted to kill herself. She failed and is glad she did, but she still has to live with the shame and embarrassment to this day.

Revenge Porn: The Law

Revenge porn became a criminal offence in the England and Wales in 2015 under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act. While the number of convictions under this new law remains modest, there are still dozens of successful convictions every year.

There are also a number of other laws that someone who spreads revenge porn can be prosecuted under in addition to this specific one.

In the USA, Revenge Porn laws have been implemented in 46 US States in addition to the District of Columbia and Guam. In eleven of those States, it is a felony offence and can result in a jail sentence of more than a year.

There are laws against revenge porn in various other countries too, including:

Australia – where sharing sexual images or videos without consent is unlawful under three different types of law; the Civil Law, the Criminal Law, and a Civil Penalties scheme.

Canada – In 2014, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act criminalised the “non-consensual distribution of intimate images”.

Scotland – Scottish law is separate from English law, but revenge porn is still illegal under the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act 2017. It is also illegal in Northern Ireland.

Japan – Legislated against communicating “a private sexual image of another person” without consent in 2014.

Singapore – the Criminal Law Reform Act 2019 included the criminalisation of revenge porn.

The Facebook algorithm

The social media giant Facebook has been a place where a lot of revenge porn has been circulated and they have come up with an algorithm to identify and remove the images.

If you have been a victim of revenge porn, what you have to do is fill out a form explaining your concerns about the image or video, and then send it to yourself using the Facebook Messenger app.

Facebook will assess and then remove the image and this will prevent it from appearing not only on Facebook but on Facebook-owned Instagram too.

It is a useful feature but not foolproof.

Firstly, you need to know that the images of you are on the internet which many victims do not until it is too late. You also have to be able to access the images yourself, which may not be easy.

Lastly, you have to accept that a Facebook worker somewhere in the world will have to look at these images before they can remove them.

It is better than nothing and kudos to Facebook for introducing it, but it is certainly not a panacea.

How to protect yourself against Revenge Porn

The one hard-and-fast rule to avoid falling victim to revenge porn is never to take, record, or share explicit images of yourself with another person. But, in the modern world, this removes what is an increasingly common part of the dating process for many people.

So, if this is not an option for you, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of revenge porn:

Only share with someone you trust 100% – If someone you barely know or don’t really trust is asking you to share explicit images, don’t send them. If your relationship sours, these could be used to blackmail or humiliate you.

Don’t take pics with your face showing – When you are taking images, make sure your face is not visible. This will give you some anonymity should the image go public.

Blur backgrounds – Be sure to blur the backgrounds of your images or pose in front of a blank wall to make sure there is nothing identifiably yours on show.

Use Secure apps – When you do share a picture, be sure to do it on a secure app such as WhatsApp or Snapchat to ensure it is encrypted.

Apps like Instagram and Snapchat will tell you if someone screenshots your image too… but they won’t be able to warn you if someone takes a photo of their screen with another device.

Save images carefully – When you save images, make sure they are stored securely on password-protected and encrypted devices or in secure online storage vaults. Don’t just keep them where anyone can access them.

Sexting and Cybersex

Women and sexting

Most victims of revenge porn find themselves in the situation as a result of sexting – sending sexually explicit images via text message, social media, or instant messaging apps.

The practise of sexting has grown massively in the UK and around the world in recent years.

Recent data found that one in four UK teens under the age of 18 had engaged in sexting and police figures last year showed that more than 6,000 children under the age of 14 had been investigated for the practice.

A recent US study found the practice was even more common amongst adults with around half of those surveyed admitting to sexting at some point according to Scientific American.

Cybersex is another online sexual habit that is also on the rise and the global coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have led to a particular spike.

One recent report showed that more than 4,000 Brits signed up to one new cybersex website in just 48 hours after it launched back in April.

As we have already seen in the previous section of this guide, sexting and cybersex might seem like a fun and harmless thing to do but it can have severe consequences.

The best advice if you want to avoid falling victim to revenge is not to send such messages but, as we have already noted, this is not realistic for many people as sexting is a central part of the dating and relationship process.

So, here are a few tips that can help you to engage in sexting and cybersex safely and legally:

Be sure of ages – if you suspect the person you are messaging could be underage, don’t send or receive any images. Doing so would not only be illegal but is a very serious criminal offence that could result in your being put on the sex offenders register and even being jailed.

Don’t show your face – Keep your face out of all images and videos to ensure a degree of anonymity and plausible denial if the footage were ever to be made public.

Password protect files and images – To stop anyone inadvertently coming across your sexting or cybersex files, make sure they are stored safely in a separate, password-protected file on your device or in the cloud.

Don’t sext while drunk – Avoid sexting or cybersex when you are drunk or otherwise intoxicated. At these times, your inhibitions are down and you are far more likely to send something you will regret.

Try to control yourself and if you can’t, consider using an app such as Drunk Locker to stop you contacting certain people when drunk.

Use self-destruct functions – Some apps like SnapChat automatically deletes photos a few seconds after they’re opened and will even tell you if a screenshot is taken. This means your picture should be removed a few seconds after it is received.

This method is worth using but it is not foolproof. People can bypass the screenshot notification or take photos with another device.

There are specific apps you can turn to such as Disckreet and Confide that offer extra protections and these are well worth considering too.

Only do sexting and cybersex with people you trust – This is perhaps the most important tip. If you have doubts about someone, don’t trust them, or don’t know them well, don’t engage in sexting or cybersex with them.

If things go wrong, you never know what they might do.

CyberStalking

Women and cyberstalking

Definition

CyberStalking: “the prolonged use … of online harassment intended “to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate” a target.” (Source)

Case Study: Back in 2009, German national David Heiss, 21, became fixated with Joanna Witton and began stalking her through Warcentral.com, an online gaming site she ran with her boyfriend from their home.

He declared his love for her many times but she repeatedly told him she was in a relationship with her boyfriend. In June of that year, Heiss turned up unannounced at her home.

After returning to Germany, he was back in the UK in September.

He lay in wait outside their flat and after Ms Witton left for work, he rang the doorbell and stabbed her boyfriend to death before trying to make it look like a burglary gone wrong.

This case study is an extreme example but it illustrates how cyberstalking can go from a seemingly harmless online obsession to something much more severe.

Cyberstalking is an issue which frequently begins on online dating sites but is by no means limited to that forum.

It refers to stalking and obsessive harassment that takes place via online forums such as dating sites but also social media, web-forums, email, and others.

Cyberstalking often begins as harmless interaction or flirting and on dating sites. It may even be you that initiates contact in the first instance.

The first signs of cyberstalking are often the occasional off-hand or passive-aggressive comment that you might find easy to dismiss at first. But if these start to increase in frequency and number and become more hostile and controlling, this could be interpreted as cyberstalking.

Cyberstalking can take on many different forms and is often difficult to define. It can involve regular hostile and insulting messages from either one or several accounts controlled by the same person.

It doesn’t have to take the form of abuse either. It can just be following and monitoring your movements and activity or collecting data and personal information about you.

This type of cyberstalking can be much harder to find out about.

Who is your cyberstalker?

Most cyberstalkers are known to their victims. They might be friends, ex-partners, or work colleagues or even someone you have met just a handful of times.

‘Most cyberstalkers are known to their victims'

Even if you don’t think you know someone, a casual encounter could still have been a trigger from their point of view.

It should be noted that not all cyberstalkers pose a threat. Some simply want attention or friendship, while others may be suffering from various mental health issues.

But there is a clear risk posed by some cyberstalkers and it can be almost impossible to know where the risk lies.

The Law

Cyberstalking is a criminal offence in England and Wales under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. There are similar laws in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland too.

In the US, it is addressed under the federal Violence Against Women Act. A number of states also have their own laws which tackle the issue.

These include Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York where there are specific laws against harassing electronic, computer or e-mail communications in their harassment legislation.

Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and California consider electronically communicated statements as conduct constituting stalking under their anti-stalking laws.

Texas has enacted a specific Stalking by Electronic Communications Act, 2001.

How to avoid being a victim of cyberstalking

Cyberstalking victim

Cyberstalking is perhaps the most difficult form on online abuse and harassment to avoid as it is often either completely unprovoked or unintentionally provoked. In some cases, you may not even know you are a victim of it.

If it is something you are concerned about, there are a few proactive steps you can take to protect yourself.

Be low key online

A lot of people like to be loud and prominent online and use social media and online dating sites to attract attention. The problem with this is that the attention you get might not always be the sort you want.

Try to tone down your online activity and be a bit more low key online.

Avoid posting personal information and photos that reveal intimate details about yourself. If you can, use nicknames rather than your actual names on these sites.

Be cautious about which sites you use as well. Stick to the reputable ones and check that they have policies in place to protect users if cyberstalking and other issues were to occur.

Hide your IP Address

A lot of websites and apps could reveal your IP Address to other users and can be used to either work out your location or to be linked to additional information a stalker may have about you.

Use a VPN whenever you are using the internet, but especially when you are engaging with strangers on social media and online dating sites.

This will encrypt your data and hide your IP Address which means you will only be giving someone the information you proactively choose to tell them.

Keep Software Updated

Keeping all of your online software up to date is crucial to prevent unintended information leaks that can fall into the hands of a cyberstalker.

Updates install the latest security patches and this can stop highly revealing data about you such as your location and financial details from falling into the wrong hands.

Monitor privacy settings

When using online dating sites, social media, and other online tools, be sure to check the privacy settings before you engage with strangers.

These often allow you to place limits on what people can and cannot see, but frequently these tools are not enabled by default. Make sure yours are set how you want them.

What to do if you are a victim of cyberstalking

If you do find out that you have a cyberstalker, don’t panic. It can seem scary but there are plenty of things you can do.

Block the relevant accounts

If you are being stalked on an online dating or social media site, the first thing to do is block the account or accounts in question.

We provided some guides on blocking accounts for the main social media accounts above. If you aren’t sure, contact customer support for assistance.

Report the perpetrators

All social media and online dating sites will have a means of reporting harassment, abuse and cyberstalking incidents to them. Again, we touched on some of these earlier in this guide.

Be sure to go through this process, even if you aren’t confident that your complaint will be treated properly.

Get the law involved

Don’t be afraid to call the police if you have been the victim of cyberstalking. Most countries have specific laws against this type of harassment as we have already explained. Collect what evidence you can from your accounts and then report the offence.

Even if the police can’t act immediately, it can help to have the report on file. If you go back again, this is likely to be taken into account and increase the likelihood of an investigation and legal proceedings.

Part Three: Protecting devices and privacy

Devices illustration

In the third section of this guide, we will look more closely at how women can protect their device and stay safe online from all sorts of threats, including gender and non-gender-specific ones.

Domestic Abuse and Surveillance

Surveillance of women illustration

When you read about online threats, the bogeymen highlighted are often authoritarian governments or faceless international computer hackers.

But the stark reality is that many of the threats women face online, which we have highlighted in this guide, come from people they already know.

You are far more likely to face online abuse and harassment or fall victim to things like cyberstalking and revenge porn from someone you have a pre-existing relationship with than a complete stranger.

In this section of the guide, we are going to look at an online aspect of a problem far too many women all over the world face; domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse can take many forms, from physical and sexual assaults to mental abuse and controlling or manipulative behaviour.

While domestic abuse can be a difficult crime to quantify, with much of it taking place behind closed doors, the Crime Survey of England and Wales for the year ending March 2019 estimates that 1.6 million women aged between 16 and 74 years-old had suffered some form of domestic abuse.

In the USA, it is estimated that more than 12 million women are victims of domestic abuse – that’s an average of 24 people a minute.

While technology can provide victims of domestic abuse with a useful tool to record and report abuse, it can sadly also be used by the perpetrators too.

Technology offers the potential to exert a level of control and surveillance over people. Some use specific apps and technology for this, while others will repurpose more common apps such as child monitoring tools and Find My Phone apps.

Apps like these can enable an abuser to track a person’s movements, see who they are communicating with and even read their private messages.

Sometimes they may even be able to activate cameras and microphones remotely to watch and listen in on what a person is doing.

Apps like these can be almost impossible to trace on a phone. Even the best anti-spyware tools struggle to pick them up.

So, the question is, how can you find these apps and stop them from being used?

There are a few possible solutions, but it is not easy:

Never let your abuser have access to your devices – Try to keep your devices with you at all times. If someone wants to install monitoring software onto your device, they will need to have physical access to it at least once to do so.

If you can keep your device away from them at all times, they will not be able to.

Have multiple devices – If it is not possible to keep your device away from your abuser, try to have more than one device and keep one that they are not aware of.

You can use this to communicate freely with other people and record and report your abuse.

Be careful when using devices given to you by your abuser – If you have a controlling person in your life, they may try to control your money and give you a device to use rather than letting you buy one yourself.

Be wary of these devices as they may already have monitoring software installed on them.

Use passwords and 2FA – Keeping your device’s password protected is the first line of defence for securing them from any threat. Changing your password regularly and keeping it private is a good way to stop anyone you don’t want from accessing your device and downloading monitoring software onto it.

Using Two-Factor Authentication on your devices adds an extra layer of security.

We are aware that if women are in a situation where they are being abused and controlled, these steps might not be realistic or achievable. In the worst situations, it is possible that they could even be dangerous.

If you are someone who is in this type of situation, the best solution is to seek help.

There are lots of domestic abuse charities that have the resources and willingness to help. Contact one of them today and change your life for the better. Below is a short list of the main ones:

UK Domestic Abuse Charities and Support:

If you believe you are in immediate danger, call 999.

If you cannot talk, dial 55 and the operator will respond.

Domestic Abuse Support in other countries:

Support for other countries can be found here.

VPNs

VPN

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is an increasingly essential online security and privacy tool for all internet users, female and male.

A VPN is a tool which protects your online data by encrypting the connection that is made between your device and the websites and online services you are using to secure them. It keeps your data safe in two principal ways:

Security

When you go online without a VPN, your device makes a direct connection to the websites and apps you use. This connection is not secure and this means your data can easily be intercepted by hackers or anyone else.

A VPN redirects all of your internet data through an encrypted tunnel which secures your online data by encoding it. Most decent VPNs use ’256-bit AES’ encryption, which is recognised as being unbreakable.

‘A VPN redirects all of your internet data through an encrypted tunnel which secures your online data'

Privacy

As well as securing everything you do online, a VPN will also redirect your internet data through an external server. This is very important for your online privacy because it changes the IP Address that is connected to your internet data.

Your unique IP Address is tagged on all your online data and is how websites and your internet provider monitors what you do online.

By hiding your IP Address, a VPN makes it much harder for companies and hackers to monitor and log what you do online.

In the UK and many other countries around the world, internet providers are required to log much of what you do online. A lot of companies do the same for commercial reasons.

Using a VPN helps to prevent this.

How to download and install a VPN?

VPNs might sound complicated but they are actually very simple to download and use. The hardest part is choosing the best VPN provider, but you will find below a list of the top 5 VPNs for all internet users.

Once you have chosen your VPN, click on the link in this guide to visit their website and sign up for their service.

A VPN will cost you a small amount but no more than a few dollars (£2-3) a month.

They are well worth the money and we strongly urge you to avoid the free VPNs that you might find as they are likely to do more harm than good to your online security and privacy.

Once you have selected a provider, just follow these few simple steps to get your VPN set up and ready to use:

  1. Download the VPN app onto all your devices. You should always do this either from the official website or by searching for the official app (be sure it is the correct one) from your app store.
  2. Open the app and log in using the account details given to you when you signed up.
  3. Click the Quick Connect button. This will usually be right in the middle of the app.

You are now connected to your VPN and protected.

You can, if you wish, play around with the features and connect to different servers but that one click is all you need to get the basic VPN protection.

Best VPN Services

Best VPNs

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is our Editor’s Pick for Best VPN around right now and its service is as suited to female internet users as it is to male ones.

Its offers unbreakable 256-bit AES Encryption for all its subscribers, has a superb independently-verified no user logs policy, and offers connections speeds that are among the fastest around.

With ExpressVPN, you can protect up to 5 devices with every account and the wide range of ExpressVPN apps, which are all extremely user-friendly, can be installed onto just about every device you can think of.

There are plenty of extra features if you want to enhance and personalise the service but if you prefer to keep things simple, you can just hit the ‘Quick Connect’ button and then get on your things.

ExpressVPN is one of the most secure, private, and reliable VPNs around and if you aren’t completely satisfied, they also have a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full ExpressVPN review here.

NordVPN

NordVPN is cheaper than ExpressVPN but still packs the same punch. It also comes with unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption and a no user logs guarantee that has been independently verified.

It has dozens of different apps available and these are well designed and easy to use. With NordVPN, you can connect up to six devices at the same time too.

There are plenty of additional features on offer, including a huge range of security extras, but if you prefer to keep things simple, there is a single-click connect button too.

NordVPN also has a 30-day money-back guarantee too and with prices starting from as little as a few dollars month, they are our pick for the best value-for-money VPNs around right now.

Read our full NordVPN review here.

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN is the perfect VPN for novices or those that lack confidence with this type of technology. It is simple and fun to use but still comes with all the security and privacy protections you need.

Their apps are beautifully designed and feature intuitive single-click options that let you customise your VPN for different tasks.

With CyberGhost VPN you can connect up to seven devices simultaneously and their superb apps are available on all major devices and some minor ones too!

You don’t have to compromise on security and privacy for all this usability. Everything you need is there but it does lack a few of the more advanced features.

But prices are incredibly competitive and there is also a 30-day money-back guarantee too.

Read our full CyberGhost VPN review here.

IPVanish

IPVanish has been around a long time which is a testament to the quality of its service. A big USP is the excellent IPVanish apps which are available for most devices.

These apps are well designed, easy to use, feature a single click connect feature and you can use the service on an unlimited number of devices simultaneously.

Connections speeds with IPVanish are fast and consistent and there is 256-bit AES encryption as standard. IPVanish has had a few privacy issues in recent times, but they are confident they are past these issues now with new owners.

IPVanish costs a little more than some of its competitors but it is undoubtedly another reliable VPN that any internet user will appreciate.

Read our full IPVanish review here.

Surfshark

Surfshark is the newest VPN on this list, but they have really made a huge impression in their short lifespan thanks to a service that is secure, private, yet still really easy to use.

Surfshark’s apps are well designed, easy to use, and crucially allow quick single click connections.

They are available for almost all major devices and you can connect an unlimited number of devices simultaneously with just one account.

It boasts unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption but a logging policy that is not ideal as it retains more user data than we would like to see. But connections speeds are impressive and there is no shortage of additional features if you want to personalise things too.

Read our full Surshark review here.

Password Managers

Password managers

Believe it or not, weak passwords are still the number one way that hackers of all types gain entry to devices and accounts.

Despite all the warnings, far too many people still use passwords like ‘123456’, ‘qwerty’ and ‘password’ to try and secure important online accounts and their devices.

Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for hackers to guess these types of passwords. There are two types of secure passwords that we should be using:

  • Complex series of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Word series containing at least three unrelated words such as ‘GooseContainerLightBulb’.

But we all have dozens of online accounts and devices to password-protect these days and trying to remember lots of passwords of this type is almost impossible.

Which is why we should all be using a password manager.

Password Managers are a simple online tool that can store all of your passwords in a single secure location. These passwords are locked with encryption and they can only be accessed by the person who knows the master-password.

‘Password Managers are a simple online tool that can store all of your passwords'

That’s you and it means you only need to remember a single password.

A lot of password managers do much more besides. They can generate random, secure passwords, auto-fill website and logins (which mean you don’t even have to type passwords in) and run regular checks to remind you to change and update passwords.

Like VPNs, there are a lot of password managers on the market, but some are much better than others.

Here is our rundown of the top 5:

1. LastPass

LastPass is the best known password manager around and frankly, it is still the best.

Its combination of security and usability is unsurpassed. You can store all your passwords secure and access them easily. You can also store credit card details, addresses, and other sensitive information you need on websites too.

LastPass will autofill all of this information when you need it, using AI to offer the right information at the right time. It can generate new, strong, and unique passwords and lets you set reminders to refresh these.

The free version of LastPass only lets you use it on a single device. For some users, that will be enough. For others, you can upgrade to unlimited devices.

LastPass has apps available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices is really user friendly and offers exceptional value for money.

2. DashLane

DashLane is another excellent password manager that lets you store all of your passwords securely and recover them quickly.

It also lets you auto-fill your passwords into any website or app and can generate secure passwords and remind you when to refresh older ones.

A neat bonus feature of DashLane is its ability to search the Dark Web (that is the bit of the internet that doesn’t show up on search engines) to see if your password has been stolen and leaked there.

DashLane offers a limited free version, but if you want to get the full service with all the features, you should upgrade to their premium version, which is still reasonably priced.

DashLane can be used on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices and has some lovely apps that are extremely user-friendly.

3. 1Password

1Password is an impressive password manager that can also remember all of your passwords and let you log into websites quickly and easily.

It is a user-friendly service with terrific, well-designed, and user-friendly apps that you can try out as part of their free trial.

1Password contains a number of bonus features such as supporting Two-Factor Authentication and authenticator tools (see below) and lets you specify certain vaults as safe for travel to provide bonus layers of protection.

1Password supports most major device types and also has a range of browser extensions available too.

4. KeePassXC

KeePassXC is another first-rate password manager but its inbuilt features mean it is one that is best used by more experienced users.

It does all the basic things you need from a password manager but in addition to this, KeyPassXC lets you self-host your password database for extra security.

This means that it stores your passwords securely on your device rather than an external server.

For tech-savvy users, this is well worth doing but if you are new to password managers, it is probably a step too far initially.

5. Password Boss

Password Boss is a cloud storage based password manager that is one of the most secure password managers around.

Like KeyPassXC, this one offers all the main features of a regular password manager, but it keeps all of your passwords encrypted and stored in a secure cloud storage facility.

This makes it easy to access all your passwords from anywhere and also means they are not stored on an individual server or device that could be compromised.

It boasts plenty of advanced features but is still fairly simple to use, which means this is a password manager that anyone can use.

WebCam Privacy Best Practice

Webcam covers

If you have concerns about cyberstalking or being monitored by your partner online, one tool that every device has which you should give some serious consideration to is your webcam.

There was a time when we plugged in a webcam when we needed to use it and then unplugged it afterwards, but these days all devices come with at least one, often several, webcams built in.

It is easy to forget that this camera is there but it actually a very useful tool for hackers, stalkers, and controlling partners to use to keep an eye on what you are doing.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help prevent your webcam from being used as a tool to surveil you:

Cover it up – when you aren’t using your webcam, make sure it is covered.

A lot of laptops come with a sliding camera covers these days that you can just slide across the lens when you aren’t using it. If your device doesn’t have one, you can buy clip-on sliders online for just a few pounds or alternatively just use a bit of tape.

Keep anti-malware up-to-date – Built-in webcams can be targeted by malware, so it is important to keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up-to-date to minimise the risk of this.

Beware repairs – If you have to send your device off for repair, make sure you send it to someone you can trust. An engineer could install spyware that uses your camera so be sure not to give them the opportunity.

Another webcam-related issue that female internet users should bear in mind is photos.

When you take a photo on a device it comes with related metadata.

This contains various information, including the time and date that the photo was taken. It can sometimes also contain details about the GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken too.

This can put you at risk as it might reveal sensitive personal information to a hacker or a stalker. Be aware of this and don’t share any pictures that might contain this information.

Equally, you should also be aware of clicking on links and downloading contacts from strangers or people you might be concerned about. These can download malware and other software onto your device that can hijack your webcam and use it to spy on you.

SOS Apps

SOS apps

If you haven’t heard of SOS apps before they are well worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you have been the victim of a type of online abuse or harassment.

An SOS app is an emergency app that can be downloaded onto your phone or tablet. It allows you to notify friends, family or the emergency services at any time when you are feeling unsafe or in danger.

Take a look at your device first as some come with an SOS app built in. If yours doesn’t have one, you can download one of the following:

React Mobile – This app lets you send a message and your GPS to select contacts if you feel in danger.

It also has an SOS Help Me button that can be used to notify your pre-chosen contacts via email and text. It can even be used to post an SOS message onto Facebook or Twitter and to contact the local emergency services.

ICE – ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. It also lets you send messages and a GPS location to select contacts.

You can also set the message to be delayed and send if you haven’t made contact by a certain time. It will also contact the emergency services.

Siren GPS – This SOS app is designed solely to contact the emergency services if you need help. It will provide them with your GPS coordinates and personal details.

You can also set up a personal profile with all the information you think they might need such as pre-existing medical conditions and emergency contact details.

Places to turn

In this guide, we have attempted to cover off all the main safety risks that women can face online and provide some solutions.

But we are aware that issues of online abuse and harassment can be extremely distressing and damaging and the advice we have offered here may not be sufficient.

If you need more support, in this section, you will find links to some dedicated support services that you can turn to for help, guidance and counselling. All of these services are there to support you no matter how big or small your problem.

If you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out to them today:

Other Countries:

A Visual Guide to the Online Issues Faced by Women

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<a href="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/internet-safety-women/"><img src="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/images/vpnc-internet-safety-women.jpg" alt="Women's online safety infographic"></a>

Infographic on Women's Internet Safety

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Conclusion

Conclusion

The internet these days is not a particularly safe place unless you take the correct precautions. Sadly, this is even more the case for women than it is for men.

In this extensive guide, we have attempted to provide female internet users with a one-stop show for all the online security advice you need.

We have offered guidance on everything from preventing abuse online and on social media, to securing your devices. We have provided practical guides to a range of common online issues that women can face, from revenge porn to cyberstalking.

Throughout the guide, we have done everything we can to offer clear and concise advice that is accessible to all.

We are also acutely aware that for some women, the issues they face online will be far deeper and more serious and for them, we have provided links to specialist charities and support groups that can help.

Online safety for women is an evolving issue, so this guide will be too. It will stay up on our website indefinitely, so you can always refer back to it and we will be keeping it updated with all the latest advice and guidance.

Online safety matters to everyone, but it is especially important for women. This guide includes everything you need to know to stay safe online.

Did you find anything particularly helpful or feel we missed something important? We would love to hear your comments, so feel free to drop us one below.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

Comments

  1. Avatar Lib

    Brilliant, sensitive, thorough, intelligent caring overview: thank you

    • Christopher Seward Christopher Seward

      Hi Lib,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, we appreciate it!

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