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DMU psychologist warns of the harm of 'checking up' on partners online

Younger Britons are three times as likely to exhibit cyber stalk behaviour than those aged 40 or over, a new survey has found.

More than half of Generation Z and Millennials in a romantic relationship said they had checked in on a former or current partner online without their knowledge or consent with 35% saying they believed doing so was harmless.

Checking phone

The findings come from a global study examining cyber stalking behaviours carried out by security company NortonLifeLock, which published its findings in its latest insight report.

It surveyed more than 10,000 people across 10 countries including 1,000 adults in the UK to assess people’s online habits.

Norton approached De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) Associate Professor in Psychology, Dr Emma Short to comment on the findings as an expert in cyber stalking.

She said: “Increasingly, online behaviours, such as tracking and monitoring, are either accepted as normal, or are a ‘grey area’. It seems that thresholds of many normalised online behaviours are now higher than the thresholds for criminality in cyber abuse. This is extremely concerning as it creates a higher tolerance of risk amongst the public and an acceptance of harm. Additionally, this means that serious cases can be missed, or dangerous stalking can escalate quickly.

“The experience of our movements being visible to others is no longer strange, we routinely track our friends and family and in turn are visible to them, but early controlling and stalking behaviours can start here.

“It’s very hard to close the door once access has been established and the consequences of cyberstalking can be profound, affecting all areas of functioning and health. Many people report a sense of helplessness and loss of control due to the bombardment of communications, the shattered integrity of their networks and the disruption this causes.

“This is often exacerbated by the poor response they receive from others due to the normalisation of many of these behaviours. Cyberstalking is a crime, a crime that can devastate and it’s crucial that we challenge the worrying level of acceptance that this report identifies.”

Nearly one in 10 Britons who have been in a romantic relationship (7%) admit to using stalkerware – such as an app that can monitor texts, emails and photos – to keep tabs on their partner. And 38% of those aged 18-39 believe their partner would be “somewhat likely” to monitor them online.

Kevin Roundy, technical director and stalkerware specialist within NortonLifeLock’s research division, Norton Labs, said between September 2020 and May 2021 they had found more than 250,000 devices that had stalkerware installed.

There are several steps you can take to help protect against stalkerware:

  • Know the signs. If you have creepware or stalkerware on your device there are a few tell-tale signs to watch out for which includes high data usage and the battery running out quickly.  
  • Regularly check your apps and their permissions. Ensure that you recognise all apps on your device, and consider which apps have access to personal information such as your location, microphone, or camera
  • Always use strong passwords. Stalkerware often requires physical access to a device. Keep yourself and your devices safe by using strong password and multi-factor identification where available. Avoid sharing your password and ensure you regularly change it.  
  • Consider how apps could be mis-used. Even seemingly innocent apps could be used maliciously. For example, if someone has the log in for your device locator app, then they can track your location too.  
  • Use a security software from a trusted, reputable brand. It is essential to consider device protection from a multi-layered security software 

NortonLifeLock is a founding member of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, an initiative that brings together over 30 organisations, from technology providers to not-for-profit organisations, to pool tools and resources in the fight against this invasive, dangerous technology.- Helpful resources include the Coalition Against Stalkerware, The Cyber Helpline -  a free, confidential helpline for individuals who have been a victim of cybercrime - and The National Stalking Helpline.

Posted on Tuesday 13th July 2021

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