Stalker generation: Zoomers and Millennials more likely to spy on their partners online

Regularly praised for their prompt adoption of technology, members of younger generations can show that uninterrupted connectivity can have its drawbacks. For instance, a whopping third of under-40s say they would stalk their partner if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.

Social media and technological capabilities make spying on people a lot easier. What’s not that evident is peoples’ willingness to abuse technology in mischievous ways.

A recently published ‘2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report’ shows we’re more than willing to break others’ privacy. A global survey covering ten countries and over 10,000 respondents indicates that a whopping 34% of people have stalked an ex or current partner online, and 28% not minding that they might be on the receiving end of the stalkers’ attention.

Disregarded privacy

While scrolling through ex’s social media account might not seem too ominous, a staggering 16% of people checked their better halves devices without their consent, 15% reviewed search histories, and 12% claimed to know their partners’ password and use it to their advantage.

In a blatant disregard for personal privacy, 8% of respondents globally used stalkerware on their current and former partners to monitor text messages, phone calls, emails, and photos.

When online creeping manifests into a compulsive pattern or evolves to use technology and tactics to discreetly track the activity on someone’s device or harass them online, it becomes a serious issue of cyberstalking,

Kevin Roundy.

Stalkerware, sometimes masked as a tool to ensure business security or children’s safety, can cause psychological damage. The use of stalkerware can cause severe damage, including fear, anger, hypervigilance, and PTSD.

From September 2020 to May 2021, researchers at Norton Labs saw a 63% uptick in the number of devices infected with stalkerware, amounting to more than 250,000 compromised devices per month.

“When online creeping manifests into a compulsive pattern or evolves to use technology and tactics to discreetly track the activity on someone’s device or harass them online, it becomes a serious issue of cyberstalking,” Kevin Roundy, technical director and stalkerware specialist with Norton Labs is quoted in a press release.

Youthful fervor 

Interestingly, the report shows that younger Americans are more prone to cyberstalking and trusting their partners less. 60% of respondents aged 18-39 admit to stalking a former or a current lover without their consent, with 24% of Americans over 40 saying the same thing.

A staggering 42% of young respondents said their partner is at least somewhat likely to install stalkerware on their device, with only 14% of those over 40 feeling the same way.

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

The report shows that a third of young Americans believe it’s harmless to stalk a partner, three times more than those over 40.

Compared to over 40’s (11%), three times more Millennials and Zoomers (36%) admitted they would be more likely to stalk their lover online if they knew they would not get caught.

Exceeding the global average by almost a double, 14% of young Americans told the surveyors that they secretly used an app to spy on their significant other’s online activity.

One reason younger generations might be more lenient towards using stalkerware is that they are more familiar with it than their older relatives.

Except for India, 18-39 year-olds in every country were more aware of ‘stalkerware’ and ‘creepware’ means.

Image by Mika Baumeister,

Different attitudes

The report touches on differences in attitudes on stalking one’s partner in different countries that took part in the survey.

For example, the portion of those willing to stalk their love interest varies with 37% of Americans claiming to have stalked their partners, while only 9% of respondents in Japan admitted to the same thing.

The Dutch (27%) and Germans (29%) were also on the lower end of stalking while a whopping 74% of respondents in India said they stalked their partners online.

The majority of Australians, French, Germans, Italians, Japanese, New Zealanders, Brits, and Americans claim to have spied on their loved ones simply out of curiosity.

Standing out of the group was India, where most respondents said their key motivation behind stalking was to make sure if their loved ones are safe. Whereas the Dutch admitted, they simply don’t trust their significant other.

The country with the least tolerance towards being spied on is Japan, where only 13% of respondents said they don’t care if they’re being stalked online. Whereas in India, 51% of respondents said they don’t mind being stalked.

Unfamiliar intruder

Out of 10 countries that took part in the survey, respondents in India (32%) were the most familiar with stalkerware, while on average, only 14% of respondents knew what stalkerware was.

Respondents from Japan (7%), France (8%), and New Zealand (9%) were least familiar with stalkerware, while Americans (19%) were second only to Indians in terms of familiarity with what it is. 

Lack of stalkerware awareness can be dangerous as data collected by Norton indicate that majority of stalkerware apps in-use track users’ location, record incoming and outgoing calls, and monitor social media.

The app collects all of the information in the background without the target being aware that unwanted stalkerware forwards private information to a jealous or abusive partner.

There are ways to protect against unwanted apps. Calvin Gan, a researcher in the F-Secure Tactical Defense Unit, explained to CyberNews earlier this year that if your mobile data usage increases, the battery is drained quicker than usual, and location or Bluetooth is automatically turned on, it might mean that there’s spyware installed on your device.

According to the Coalition Against Stalkerware, these signs might indicate there’s stalkerware on your device:

  • Mobile phone, device, or laptop goes missing and reappears. 
  • Strange behavior from the device operating system or applications.
  • Unfamiliar app or process is on your device.
  • Lending your device for an extended period of time to someone and noticing changes in settings or unknown apps you do not recognize.
  • ‘Unknown sources’ setting ‘Enabled’ on an Android device.
  • Unexpected battery drain.
  • Presence of an app called Cydia (iOS devices).
  • Active sessions on devices you did not authorize.
  • Using easy passwords that someone close to you can guess.
  • Webcam permissions are on for applications you did not give permission to.

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