Cyberstalking 'concerningly' common among younger New Zealanders - survey

The survey highlights a massive difference between generations with regards to cyberstalking.
The survey highlights a massive difference between generations with regards to cyberstalking. Photo credit: Getty Images

A "concerning" number of young Kiwis admit to cyberstalking and believe being cyberstalked online by partners or ex-partners is acceptable, according to a new study.

The research by NortonLifeLock found around half of young New Zealanders aged 18-39 who have been in a relationship have checked in on a partner or ex-partner without their consent.

Further, 40 percent believed that being stalked online was fine, as long as they weren't being stalked in person.

This is significantly higher compared to those aged over 40 in Aotearoa, of whom just 18 percent admitted to stalking and 22 percent who are okay with the practice, according to the 2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report: Special Release - Online Creeping survey.

That normalisation of bad behaviour is alarming, Mark Gorrie, senior director - APJ at NortonLifeLock told Newshub.

"It's evolving that this is expected, which is definitely concerning because if people are being monitored consistently without consent and without knowledge, it's obviously not a good thing," he said.

"And then that becomes a cyber safety issue, which we're obviously trying to protect people against."

There's no single factor that led to this situation, he said, although people living more of their lives online is contributing to how easy it is to get data.

"Social media is such a big thing these days, and people are just sharing a lot more without even really understanding some of the consequences of oversharing their information," he said.

The cyberstalking takes various forms, with accessing a partner or ex-partner's device being most common, and using knowledge of passwords to gain unauthorised access to online accounts next.

Among those who admitted to cyberstalking their current or former partners, curiosity (40 percent) was the most cited reason. Suspecting their partner was up to no good influenced 29 percent to do it while 26 percent didn't trust their partner.

One in ten Kiwis claimed they found out their partner was checking up on them so decided to reciprocate, the study revealed.

There were some positives for New Zealand however, Gorrie said, and that came in the low-level understanding and use of cyberstalking apps.

"We're seeing specific apps to monitor people's geolocation, their email, their messaging, photos and who they're connected with. The tools available to people are much more readily available now," Gorrie told Newshub.

But just four percent of survey respondents admitted to using those types of dedicated apps - stalkerware - compared to eight percent in the US.

The trend is concerning, however. In the last year to May there was a 63 percent increase in the usage of stalkerware globally, said Gorrie.

There are some simple steps people can take if they are worried that a partner or ex-partner could be accessing their information without their consent.

"If there's some concern there they should be changing pass codes or using biometric access," Gorrie told Newshub.

If anyone has shared passwords in the past they should change those, with two-factor authentication being another option to restrict access, he said.

And being vigilant with what you open can also pay dividends.

"There's a way to remote install some of these services as well so people should be aware of external links or files being sent to them," he said.

Those can be picked up by specialist software, like the kind NortonLifeLock supplies, but Kiwis can also keep an eye out for apps that appear to have lots of permissions it shouldn't need that indicate they are monitoring calls, messages and emails.

The Online Creeping survey included 1004 New Zealand respondents.