Decoding Your Digital Footprint

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on June 12, 2013

When individuals are online, they are assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address by their Internet service provider (e.g., Earthlink, AOL, Qwest, Comcast, their school) or cell phone service provider (e.g., Sprint, AT&T, Verizon). This IP address is unique and is bound to a person’s current online session—whether it is via a computer, cell phone, or other portable electronic device. It is continually associated with the data transactions (sending [uploading] and receiving [downloading], interacting, communicating) that are made between one’s device and the rest of the World Wide Web and between one’s social networking site, email, instant message, and chat software and the existing population of Internet users. All data transactions are stamped with one’s IP address and the exact date and time (to the millisecond) that it occurred, and they are kept in log files on computers owned by Internet service providers, cell phone service providers, and content providers (Facebook, Google, Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc.).

When attempting to discover the aggressor behind the keyboard, it is vital to know the IP address bound to the malicious message or piece of content. Once that is discovered, the relevant provider can assist school police (or local, state, or federal law enforcement) in identifying the online session in question, which points to the Internet service provider or cell phone service provider through whom the online connection was made, then to the person connected to that specific account (by way of the billing information), and finally to the family member who was logged in at the time the cyberbullying took place.

From School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time

  • roxymize345

    Thanks for sharing this, Justin. I have a question, though- When it comes to providing information about the bully, how open are the providers? Is there any legal tangle that one has to go through to get the account information?

    • http://www.cyberbullying.us/ Justin W. Patchin

      There are some hoops to jump through, yes, but it is a lot easier to get the necessary information when working with law enforcement or an attorney when the behaviors in question are of a criminal nature. For example, Twitter isn’t going to give you the ISP and billing address for someone who simply retweets your comments and says they are stupid. But if someone tweets a death threat, they will work with you. The big problem is that a lot of cyberbullying falls firmly within the large grey area in between.

      • mstrnatko

        It was interesting reading about how accurate an IP address is. I did not realize that all online activities under that address were recorded. That seems very detailed and would take any gray area out of the equation. However, as roxymize345 mentioned, i have heard that school administrators and counselors have had a very difficult time getting account information due to privacy laws. I realize that when death threats are involved, the providers will accommodate. However, when very cruel and harmful posts are made about an adolescent that leads to constant taunting, the providers should do what they can to end the problem.