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Is cyberstalking ever OK? Nearly half of young Australians think it is


Is it ever OK to cyberstalk anyone? Two in five Australians aged 18-39 think that’s acceptable according to a new cyber safety study by NortonLifeLock.

Half (49 per cent) of Gen Z and Millennials age 18-39 who have been in a romantic relationship have admitted to stalking an ex or current partner online by checking on them without their consent or their knowledge.

There is a distinct generational difference among Australians with only 24 per cent of older adults admitting to this type of behaviour.

And 30 per cent of those younger Australians currently in a romantic relationship believe their partner is somewhat likely to download or has already downloaded apps, also known as creepware or stalkerware, onto their device or devices to monitor their activity including text messages, phone calls, emails and photos.

These findings were published in the 2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report. This is NortonLifeLock’s flagship consumer survey which looks at cybercrime and consumer online behaviours as it relates to their online security, privacy and identity.

The report surveyed more than 10,000 people in ten countries including 1005 adults in Australia.

“There seems to be a perception that cyberstalking is more ’out of sight, out of mind,’ with 30 per cent of young Australians saying they don’t care if they’re being stalked online by a current or former partner as long as it’s not in person,” said Mark Gorrie, Senior Director – APJ, NortonLifeLock.

“Whilst the uptake of downloading creepware apps to your partner’s devices is relatively low, the acceptance or belief that cyberstalking our current or ex-partners is relatively harmless, especially among younger Australians in concerning.”

The research shows that 22 per cent of Australians believe stalking a current or former partner online is harmless.

More younger respondents agreed with this statement (29 per cent) than older Australians over 40 (18 per cent).

“With recent depictions of online stalking and stalkerware technology featured in TV shows and other pop culture, it’s concerning to think that these dramatisations may be influencing dating standards in modern day romance,” Gorrie says.

Younger Australians are twice as likely than those aged 40 or over to agree online stalking is OK if one or both partners have cheated or are suspected of cheating (36 per cent v 17 per cent) with some admitting they would be more likely to stalk a lover or an ex online if they knew they wouldn’t get caught (34 per cent v 17 per cent).

But few Australians (9 per cent) who have been in a romantic relationship acknowledged to using an app to track a partner’s physical activity.

The most common forms of stalking among those who have been in a romantic relationship are checking their partner’s smartphone to read their text messages, their list of phone calls, emails and photos (16 per cent).

Others have also reviewed the search histories (15 per cent) on one of their devices or used their partner’s password (13 per cent) to access their devices or online accounts.

Curiosity is the most common reason for checking on current or former partners according to 41 per cent of respondents, along with wanting to know who their partner was with (35 per cent) and to make sure their partner was safe (35 per cent).

And almost a quarter ( 23 per cent ) said they discovered their partner was checking on them so they decided to do the same thing.

Globally, cyber stalking isn’t unusual with 34 per cent of respondents who have been in a romantic relationship admitting to checking on a former or current partner on the internet without them knowing.

More than a third of Australians (34 per cent) also confessed to this behaviour.

So what do you do if you think you may have stalkerware or creepware installed on your device?

NortonLifeLock’s Mark Gorrie has some tips to help you how to find it, remove it and protect yourself moving forward.

  1. Often, to install stalkerware of creepware, access to your device is needed. To help protect yourself , ensure you have 2FA (2-Factor Authentication) or biometric login enabled so more than just a password is needed.
  2. In some cases, creepware can be installed remotely on your device through a link. Beware of files or programs from third party sources. Illegal downloads or freeware from untrusted sources can sometimes be used by hackers to infect your devices with malware.
  3. To help ensure you don’t have creepware or stalkerware installed on your device, it is important to fully inspect all apps on your devices and review the permissions to functions such as location, calls & texts, camera & microphone and image gallery. If there isn’t a clear function to that app needing that permission, you should properly review and delete if necessary.
  4. Only download apps from trusted and verified sourced such as the Apple App store, Google Play or Windows store. Apps here undergo more rigorous testing to be approved. An extra level of security is installing security software that scans an app for any suspicious activity. Norton 360 includes mobile app scanning to help give peace of mind for every app download.