What is doxxing?

The Internet has become a land of incessant trolling and inflammatory comments, but be careful of how far you go because there could be repercussions.
The Internet has become a land of incessant trolling and inflammatory comments, but be careful of how far you go because there could be repercussions.
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Doxxing, also spelled "doxing," refers to the practice of using the Internet to source out and collect someone's personal and private information and then publicly releasing that information online [source: S-W]. Derived from the word "documents," the term is an abbreviated version of "dropping dox," a method of revenge that dates back to the hacker culture of the early 1990s [sources: Goldman, Honan].

The Internet makes it easy to find publicly available information, such as landline phone numbers or mailing addresses, once you know a person's name, and white pages style directory sites have long replaced old-school phone books. But doxxing takes things much further than an innocent search for contact information. Doxxers often set out to tie an anonymous online profile to the true identity of the person behind it and then publicly reveal that person's real name, along with personal details ranging from home addresses and unlisted cell phone numbers to Social Security numbers, children's names or credit card information.

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Like identity theft, doxxing usually requires a bit of unscrupulous investigation on the part of the person digging up the info, such as stalking the target's social media profiles looking for pets' names, maiden names or other clues that may be used to guess passwords or answer security questions. Unlike identity theft, however, the goal of doxxing is typically retribution, harassment or humiliation rather than financial gain. Of course, once the victim's personal details are publicly revealed, there's no telling what other Internet users may do with them.

Both private and public figures have been "doxxed" and, surprisingly, the practice is often completely legal, although it's widely frowned upon in established online communities like Reddit [sources: Honan, Pelisek, S-W]. In 2013, doxxing (both the word and the practice) gained mainstream exposure when celebrities including Beyoncé, Ashton Kutcher and even Hillary Clinton had closely guarded information such as their home addresses and cell phone numbers revealed online [source: Pelisek]. More recently, the word doxxing has been used -- sometimes controversially -- to describe the practices of investigative journalists who use techniques associated with doxxing to identify and research the targets of their reporting [sources: Goldman, S-W].

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Frequently Answered Questions

What happens if you got Doxxed?
If you are doxxed, it means that your personal information has been exposed online. This could include your home address, phone number, email address, and even your credit card information. Doxxing can be done for malicious reasons, such as to stalk or harass someone. It can also be done accidentally, such as when a website's security is breached, and personal information is leaked.
Is doxxing a illegal?
Doxxing is not illegal, but it can be considered a form of cyberbullying. It is important to think carefully before posting personal information about someone online. Once information is posted, it is difficult to remove and may be used maliciously.
Why is it called getting Doxxed?
There is no definitive answer to this question, but one theory is that the term "dox" comes from the word "docs," meaning "documents." When someone's personal information is released without their consent, it is often in the form of sensitive documents, such as medical records or financial statements. Therefore, the term "doxxing" may have originated as a way to describe the act of releasing private documents without permission.

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Related Articles

Sources

  • Goldman, Alex. "The Problem with 'Doxxing.'" On the Media. March 10, 2014. (August 9, 2014) http://www.onthemedia.org/story/problem-doxxing/
  • Honan, Matt. "What is doxing?" Wired. March 6, 2014. (August 9, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2014/03/doxing/
  • Janssen, Cory. "Definition -- What does 'Doxing' mean?" Techopedia. (August 9, 2014) http://www.techopedia.com/definition/29025/doxing
  • Pelisek, Christine. "Doxxing: It's Like Hacking, But Legal." The Daily Beast. March 13, 2013. (August 9, 2014) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/13/doxxing-it-s-like-hacking-but-legal.html
  • S-W, C. "What doxxing is, and why it matters." The Economist. March 10, 2014. (August 9, 2014) http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/03/economist-explains-9
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