Couples embrace digital entanglement despite consequences, survey says

A new Malwarebytes survey found a record 100% of couples say they are digitally connected to their partners through a joint or shared personal account – even though 30% also say they either regret doing so or worry about negative consequences such as cyberstalking if they broke up.

To share or not to share is a pressing question for many couples navigating the era of digital behavior as a romantic unit – also known as digital entanglement or digital cohabitation.

Malwarebytes Labs released the results of its April 2024 Modern Love survey on Tuesday, shedding light on how married couples or those in serious relationships handle the evolving trends associated with sharing a digital footprint, both good and bad.

“Today’s relationships have evolved from sharing phone numbers to couples sharing everything from Netflix passwords to their exact location,” Malwarebytes posted on X.

“What’s mine, doesn't have to be yours,” the cybersecurity research company posed about the dilemma.

Out of the 500 couples surveyed, not surprisingly, it was Gen Z and Millennials (ages 18 through 43 years old), most likely to share an expanded digital footprint with their romantic partners.

From Gen Z to Boomers, the independent poll also found that universally, all the couples shared their personal login information across an average of 12 different types of accounts.

The most commonly shared accounts fell under household management, such as entertainment services, childcare, online shopping, and shared photo albums.

Malwarebytes Modern Love survey 1

Other popular sharing categories included location-based accounts, such as Uber and Airbnb, as well as passcodes to personal devices such as computers, tablets or smartphones.

Roughly 50% of partners said they further grant access to personal social media and/or email accounts, and consider the practice normal.

More than two-thirds of couples believe the open sharing of personal accounts fosters a sense of trust, security, and reassurance within the relationship, the survey said.

Malwarebytes Modern Love survey 2 security

Negative effects of digital entanglement

On the flip side, the Malwarebytes survey found that more than 48% of respondents, on average, have felt pressure to share personal login information and/or locations with their partner and when they did, about one-third of them later regretted it.

More men than women reported regretting the decision, while more Gen Z and Millennials admit to experiencing that partner pressure.

“Privacy is deeply connected to safety, especially for survivors of abuse,” said Erica Olsen National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Owen said the report highlights "the critical need to examine norms around privacy as they exist within intimate relationships," also mentioning the need for tools that allow people to "easily disentangle" from shared accounts.

“While sharing account access or information can be useful, consent should remain at the core of these decisions,” she said.

Malwarebytes Modern Love survey regrets

At least one in three of the respondents said sharing their account access came back to haunt them, with an ex-partner abusing the permissions to cyberstalk or track their locations.

Other invasive behaviors included impersonation, spying, accessing emails, texts, DMs, or other messages, and assessing financial accounts.

Still, Malwarebytes said that most of the couples revealed a false sense of security about digitally sharing with their partner, either feeling “invulnerable to harm in their own current relationship” or completely unaware of how many apps use location data to track them.

Finally, 7 in 10 of those surveyed said they would welcome help on how best to share their digital footprint in a committed relationship.

“I feel like it might take some effort (to digitally disentangle) because we are more seriously involved. We have many other kinds of digital ties that we would have to undo in order to break free from one another,” noted one Gen Z respondent.

The survey sample was equally split for gender, with a spread of ages, geographical regions, and race groups, Malwarebytes stated.