Even a “good” breakup is emotionally taxing. If the person you’ve cut ties with turns out to be malicious, it’s a whole different story. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional toll of separation, but you also have to figure out how to protect yourself from possible harassment. Putting physical distance between you and your ex is the first step, but it’s also important to consider your digital privacy. If you’ve been sharing accounts for streaming services, know each other’s phone passcodes, or share access to financial accounts, then it’s time to do a step-by-step review and lock down your accounts to stop unauthorized access by your ex.
The people at Refuge Tech Safety, an organization that helps women and children facing economic and technological abuse, have produced an excellent Digital Breakup guide to help you through the process. While the whole thing is worth reading and following, these eight steps will get you started.
Secure your most important accounts
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Start by changing the passwords of your crucial accounts. This may include:
Your bank account
Other finance accounts, such as PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, Zelle, etc.
Your investment accounts (including mutual funds, cryptocurrency, retirement funds, emergency accounts, etc.)
Passcodes to your phone, laptop, tablets, and any other personal tech devices
Start using a password manager
Credit: Pranay Parab
I always recommend switching to a good password manager to safely store sensitive data, including passwords, account details, ID cards, etc., and this is as good a time as any. My recommendations include 1Password and Bitwarden (for most people), and KeePass (for more tech savvy people). You should also do a checkup on your most critical accounts, like your Google account. Consider the following steps:
You should also set up two-factor authentication on all of your accounts. This can be done easily if you set up an authenticator app such as Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, or even your password manager. (Most password managers also store your two-factor authentication keys.)
If you already use a password manager, change your master password
Now is a good time to change your master password for your password manager, even if you don’t think your ex-partner ever knew it. If warranted, you can even consider moving to a different password manager.
Hide your location
We live in a hyper-connected world, and every device tracks your location to some degree. If you wish to hide your location from your ex-partner, start by disabling location tracking at the cloud service level. Start by going to Google Location History settings and select Turn off. You can also click the Manage history button and delete location history data.
If you are in the Apple ecosystem, turn off location access for your ex via Apple’s Find My app, or any other location tracking apps, such as Life360. You may even consider turning off location services on your phone entirely until you feel it’s safe.
Lock down your email
If you have email accounts other than Google or iCloud, change your passwords for those too. Consider blocking your ex-partner from contacting you via email. Most email services have a block sender feature that is useful for these situations. You should also ensure your account recovery phone number and email addresses are yours, and not those of your ex.
Protect your social media, streaming, gaming, and fitness accounts
While it may be tempting to just delete any potentially triggering social media app after a breakup, it’s better to secure your account beforehand.
Even if you aren’t deleted, make sure your accounts are covered by your password manager and two-factor authentication. Make sure your account recovery details are your own, turn your account private, remove followers or friends linked to your ex, and block any accounts you don’t recognize that may actually belong to your ex (some services, like Instagram, will allow you to block multiple associated accounts at once).
Many social media and streaming apps allow you to check if there are any other devices you’ve logged in from. and log out remotely. Do so. If you’ve been sharing a streaming site account with your ex, it’s best to log out. Change the password or open a fresh account for yourself.
The same advice also applies to your fitness accounts, including Strava and others that may make your data available for others to see. Think before posting any of your workout details online and ensure this data can’t be seen by your ex. If you and your ex shared a gaming device, you should consider a factory reset and a fresh login.
Separate your shopping and meal delivery accounts
Shared ecommerce sites and delivery apps could reveal your current address to your ex if you forget they have access. Reset your passwords in all of them, log out of unused devices, and consider creating new accounts to avoid the chance of being tracked.
Hide your travel details
If you frequently use apps to take cabs and book hotels and flights, it’s worth doing a quick password reset to ward against unauthorized access. While a password reset will likely suffice, consider that most apps have a competitor that’s equally good, so you can also take the nuclear option and switch services to better protect your location and activity.