As a journalist and a Millennial, I’ve spent the past decade honing the skills with which I literally cyberstalk people.
During the early days of true social media circa 2006-2010, I exercised boundaries and respect for privacy. But during my first relationship away from the safety and exposure of my hometown, I uncovered information about le leading man way too slowly and learned that doing your homework on an S.O. sometimes warrants a small invasion of privacy. Then, during my first experience in editorial, I was taught that boundaries were but a tiny inconvenience to be scoffed at and all bets were officially off.
Today, I and all my Millennial comrades (don’t lie, guy who will inevitably comment about how creepy I am) are basically experts at cyberstalking. In fact, we’re probably sleuthier than most private detectives put together pre-social media. #Skillz
But for those who aren’t aware of just how invasive the internet is, here’s how your friends, acquaintances, admirers, government officials, and TMZ journalists are stalking you out. Prepare yourself for the 7 terrifying ways stalkers are mapping your life to the minutest detail.
*Disclaimer: I focus on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but be aware of your setting across all social media.
1. Checking in
We’re all pretty aware of this one. Since the invention of Foursquare, checking in to a location as a way to brag about your experiences while circumventing the open brag of a “Zomg I’m at the most amaze-balls resort in Cali right now!” status has been a mainstay, even post-Foursquare craze. I’m guilty of it myself; I check in to every place that has an awesome rating of 7.5 or higher and yes, Chipotle makes the grade.
The problem is that we don’t realize how much we do it. Sometimes we carelessly attach a location tag to a photo or status or even a message on a friend’s wall, not really intending to announce a visit anywhere so much as to complete the picture of the message. In time, those check-ins rack up and your whole life is mappable. If someone were to develop and unhealthy an unsafe fixation on you or your child, that person has a quantifiable record of all your habits.
To add insult to injury, apps such as Connect and Social Radar do the stalking work for them. It collects and maps every bit of location information spread across every social platform connected to an individual. Keep this in mind the next time you check in to a lunch spot.
2. “Posted From”
Did you know Facebook is keeping tabs on your location even when you don’t check in? Some of your statuses might include a tiny, almost imperceptible location stamp wedged in there between the timestamp and public privacy setting. (The irony hurts my face.)
This feature is unique to mobile Facebooking so you have to disable it in your phone’s general settings.
Facebook also tracks your location in the chat feature and displays your current, real time whereabouts with each message you send. So if you’re trying to gently let an overeager admirer down while he’s begging you to have coffee with him so you can “see how great he really is”, you need to adjust those location settings before you send ANYTHING. This is so real.
3. Casual commentary on a place or event
Even if you’re not checking in anywhere and you’ve turned off the “Posted From” feature, your whereabouts are probably more transparent than you think. Does “Ew, the AMC movie theater is so grody” sound like something you’ve ever posted? How about “First trip to the lake of the season!”? Maybe even “X bar is lame on Thursdays. Lesson learned.”
Even more invisible is commenting on a friend’s post about X bar with, “Omg, I’m here too! Come find me!” You may think that comment is safe on your friend’s wall, but everyone has access to it thanks to the name search function and this bad boy:
Casually mentioning a location or event is another way for stalkers to map your habits. Even mentioning an establishment of choice (like I just stupidly did in this article about Chipotle–bring it on, stalkers!) is a good tip off for crazed admirers about where they can find you on an average day. At another angle, it’s also a green light for burglars who may target your home and intelligently premeditate the attack.
4. Find My Friends
This is an app that requires your permission for a friend to track you, but unfortunately it’s a fad app. This means that everybody jumped onto the bandwagon at once, used it for about a week, then promptly forgot about it. Not good.
Giving a list of people you hung out with freshman year of college access to your whereabouts 24/7 may have seemed like a convenient way to coordinate Thirsty Thursday caravans but let’s be honest, that didn’t pan out. Now, all of these people still have access to your whereabouts, even if you deleted the app. Did your then-boyfriend go all caveman territorial on you? I bet you deleted him from all your social media. Well, don’t forget to wipe your Find My Friends profile before deleting it because he could turn stalker on your ass any moment.
5. Instagram photo map
Even if you’re not tagging a location onto your photo post, you might still have the “Add to Photo Map” feature clicked on. Personally, I love this feature because I’m hoping to look at it adoringly when I’m old and dusty. However, it’s not private. Anyone can study my map and calculate my visit frequency to the conclusion that I spend an unhealthy amount of time at Taco Bell taking pictures of quesadillas and hot sauce packets.
If you use this feature, consider clicking it off if the photo is of a hot sauce packet and you won’t mind missing it when you’re 80 and remembering your world travels. Just remember to turn it back on when you post that photo of your wedding under the Eiffel Tower.
6. Identifying features in photos
Do you post photos of events or experiences while they’re happening? Yeah, me too. I’m the girl who posts pictures of myself buying a pretzel at the mall and posts it while I’m eating the pretzel. If I’m not careful, sometimes the business’s logo is in the photo, either on a sign or a napkin. So if you want to kidnap me, keep an eye out for that.
Posting photos of you and your friends having all the fun at Recognizable Bar is the best feeling ever because everyone has to see you having all the fun and knows you’re still having the fun. But if you post that photo direct to
7. “About” info
Does your Facebook profile boast your place of employment? Does your Twitter profile include your job title and employer?
Do you mention in your status updates, “Ugh, 8 hours shift today. Hopefully home in time to catch The Bachelor!”? Well you just told your stalker where you’ll be and when.
I wouldn’t suggest hiding your professional information, especially if you need to maintain a professional social media presence, but do hold that shift info and don’t post updates about your tres terrible commute. Just… don’t.