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Chat / Instant Messaging Safety

Be Smart, Be Safe, But Don't be Left Behind!
Protect Your Privacy Online

Essential basics for protecting your privacy when in a CHAT site:

  • Be very cautious about how much personal information you share in a chat room. It is best never to share personal information in a chat room. EVER!
  • Use generic information to register for the chat site
  • Use a disposable (free) email, such as yahoo or hotmail
  • Do not put personal or identifying information in your chat profile
  • Do not accept files to your computer from other chatters. If necessary have them send the file to your disposable email address. Email web sites are usually set up to scan for viruses.
  • If you are being harassed in a chat room do not be drawn into an argument. If the chat place gives you the option, set the abusive person(s) to ignore. If it is a monitored site report the abuse to a monitor. If nothing else, leave the chat room. Do not be taunted into responding, as this is often a ploy of stalkers or trollers to keep talking to you and possibly goad you into giving out personal information

Essential basic safety when using Instant Messaging (IM)

  • Do not share personal information with someone your have never met or feel unsure about
  • Use generic information to register for the IM site
  • Use a disposable (free) email, such as yahoo or hotmail
  • Do not put personal or identifying information in your IM profile
  • Just because they contact you in IM does not mean that you know them
  • Do not have files come directly to your computer through IM; use your disposable email address instead. Remember only open attachments in email if you know what is in the attachment and you trust the sender.
  • If abusive IM communications happen, "block" the abuser from seeing when you are online(or if the Instant Messenger has the option set them to be "ignored"). If necessary delete the abuser from your friends or buddy list after you have blocked them. Do not be taunted into responding, as this is often a ploy of stalkers or trollers to keep talking to you and possibly goad you into giving out personal information

Chat and Instant Messaging (IM) are great ways to meet others and network with people who have similar interests. It is very important to understand that most things on the Internet are accessible by anyone in the world and thus open to all the different shades of human kind, good and evil.

Chatting with someone in another part of the world with the same interests and goals as you can be enlightening and rewarding. On the other end of the scale, chatting with someone who you don't realize is acting a role while they are gathering information about you, can infringe on your privacy and jeopardize your safety. Just as there are good and bad people in the world,  there are also good and bad people online.

Often, as people become familiar with using chat or IM they let their defenses slip. They are usually in comfortable and safe surroundings such as their home or the library, so it may feel safe to share small bits of personal information.

Why it is important to be cautious about what you share is in these spaces is because all those little bits of information added together can lead to quite a detailed profile about a person. A profile may contain names, locations, likes and dislikes. Who would want to gather someone's personal information you ask? Marketers may be looking for specific targets or demographics to gather information for commercial purposes.

A more sinister reason to gather information is to target vulnerable individuals, create a profile of them, gain their trust, and then exploit or harm them. Children and vulnerable adults who are not experienced or knowledgeable about online safety are at risk of being targeted and exploited.

Another thing that people often are not aware of is that our usual ways of discerning if someone is good or bad can't be used. We can't see their expressions or physical actions.We can't hear their tone of voice and we don't observe them other than in the controlled setting of chat or IM. Under these controlled settings someone can easily act different from who they really are and can often do this for long periods of time because they are actively involved in the role they are playing online. In other words don't think because you have seen someone act the same online for a long time that they will be the same offline. The longer people portray themselves a certain way online, the more believable they may seem. There are people online who experiment with different roles for their own growth. There are also people online who assume roles for illegal and harmful purposes.


For example, a person in a chat room will often focus on chatting with only some of the people in the room. They may forget that the rest of the room can still see what they are typing. They may think that other people in the chat room aren't watching or interested in their conversation. Yet there may be someone there who is  watching (lurking) or who is looking (trolling) for a specific type of person who they believe they could exploit.

NOTE: When you are engaged in chat or instant messaging you should always be conscious of what you are saying and what information you are giving out.


Instant Messaging can seem like a safer method of communicating, but that is not necessarily so. You still need to be aware of what you are saying and guard against giving out personal information. With IM you have more control over who sees what you are typing because you aren't in a chat room with a group of unknown people in it. You may have a list of people who you interact with one on one, so you feel safe, but anyone online can ask to join your buddy list. They may say they are a friend of a friend or be referred by someone you know. The same caution applies, you can't really tell who is on the other end. No one thinks that someone on the other end of the IM may be a stranger using a friend's computer and their IM.

A practice that is more common with IM than with Chat is to share a file. Be very cautious about accepting files directly to your computer, they can contain viruses or viral programming that may go undetected by anti-virus or anti-spam software. Even your best friend could send you a file they don't realize is infected.

(If you do want to accept a file, give that person your disposable email address. This helps reduce the chance of a virus entering your computer and limits the chance that personal information will be accessed.)

How information can be collected in chat rooms

  • Some people in Chat Rooms are "Trolling", they have a target and are looking for certain information or certain people that meet a criterion
    • They may be quiet and just listen as they gather the information they are looking for
    • They may throw specific phrases out to the chat group as bait, to find the people who respond in a way that meets their criteria
    • They aren't necessarily targeting a specific person, they can build up profiles of people in the chat room who meet their criteria
  • Some people in Chat Rooms may be "Stalkers" they have a specific target person they are trying to exploit
    • They may use the same techniques as someone who is "trolling" but they are targeting one person
    • Someone who is "trolling" may turn into a "stalker" if they find and start to pursue a specific person in a harassing way, whether or not that person is vulnerable
    • Someone who tries to engage in a private conversation with you may be trying to build trust. Be cautious of the personal information you share
  • Conversations in chat rooms are usually recorded and logged in the background by the administrators of the site
    • Although it seems to a user like their conversation is deleted when they exit a chat room or when the chat window runs out of space, in fact the owner of the chat site has a text log of all conversations. This text log can be kept indefinitely, it can be searched for key words, it can be shared.
    • Normally a chat site log is not kept very long, often it is just overwritten. That said, if a chat site is owned and operated by an individual or an organization that is acquiring information for a hidden purpose it is wise to be careful what is typed in a chat room.

  The Best Way to Protect Your Privacy in a Chat Room

  • NEVER SHARE ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION such as your real name, your age, your address, your city, your school, your workplace, or your phone numbers.
  • Use a pseudonym
  • If you must register use generic or made up information (someone, someplace, somecity
  • Use a disposable (free) email, such as yahoo or hotmail
  • If the Chat Room offers a tool to delete your chat information, use it
  • Be aware that your conversations are visible to everyone in the chat room, who may be anywhere in the world, even your next door neighbour
  • Be aware that your conversations are being recorded
  • Don't give out any personal information to anyone
  • Be suspicious of anyone asking for personal information (and be cautious if they persist in wanting the information)