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Know who loves social networking? Stalkers

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SPECIAL REPORT: Stalkers have become potentially more dangerous than ever, and we may have ourselves to blame. Technology has made it simple for anyone to find where we are or what we’re doing, thanks to social networking companies who make money when we connect with others as often as possible.

It’s not “cyberstalking” — that’s when someone follows you online. This involves someone who is tracking you offline with the intent of a confrontation. Call it “digital stalking.”

Yes, we can keep tabs on one another and support causes like never before, thanks to any number of social media “innovations,” such as the “check in” app.

But the willingness to post these details creates a digital “footprint” that leaves certain people vulnerable: You can start with domestic violence victims and work your way from there.

Women whose smart phones have been hacked with GPS tracking software could unknowingly be tipping off their locations when they go to their profile pages, a report released this week by two British advocacy groups warns.

“Stalkers who stalk offline will usually assist their activities with some form of technology as a tool, e.g. mobile phones, social networks, computers or geolocation tracking,” Women’s Aid and the Network for Surviving Stalking says in the report.

The right email attachment, when opened, could have inserted the tracing program days, weeks or months ago, it says. “It’s cheap, easy to use and very powerful.”

The next thing you know, someone is intercepting calls and tracking text messages, they said.

Of course, some people make it even easier than that, identifying the restaurant or club they’re at using what’s become an increasingly popular social network feature. It lets your friends know where you are, in case they want to meet up – but it clues in others, as well.

Here’s the scary part: You might not be able to help yourself.

Another new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, says Facebook and Twitter are more addictive for some people than cigarettes. What’s more, the will to resist going online and “sharing” decreases as the day goes on and we grow more tired or frustrated.

Like the GPS email hack, there are other insidious ways of using your online behavior to find you.

The study released this week includes the case of a woman who didn’t change her eBay password after leaving an abusive boyfriend. After tracking what she bought, he contacted the online vendors and conned them into providing her new address, the report says.

He found her and blinded her in one eye, it says.

Although the advocacy groups don’t mention any by name, they emphasized that the ability for social networks to make tons of money “depends upon encouraging users to exchange information with the widest network possible, which compromises the privacy and security of their users.”

In the end, it is the user who determines how much private information is shared.

Facebook says it’s “entirely optional” to share a location, and that users can block others from seeing their information – even if it means using one of the abuse reporting links on the site.

The trouble is that some consider the work a time-drain or, worse, a mystery. Truth is: You don’t need any particular level of sophistication to understand the dangers of what you post and how.

The smartest thing to do is assume that everything you do or say online can be seen by anyone. That includes emails, photos, instant messages and passwords.

How to protect them?

Start by finding out your exact settings. Don’t risk a default option that exposes all you do —  both virtually and figuratively.

If you’re not sure, do some online research. Better yet: Find a close friend you can trust who can tell you what your settings should be.

Leaving things to chance gambles with some people’s safety. Is it worth the risk?

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