A new survey, commissioned by Kaspersky, of 21,000 people worldwide, reveals shocking data about the extent of digital abuse. Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) had experienced some form of online stalking from a person they were newly dating. A third (34%) of respondents believe that Googling/checking the social media accounts of a person you had started dating as a form of due diligence is acceptable and 41% admitted to doing so when they started dating someone.
According to the study – which interviewed 1,000 people in 21 countries around the world – online daters are keen to take steps to protect themselves in the quest for love. However, people are still vulnerable to an alarming rise in stalking and abuse this Valentine’s Day from risks posed by location settings, data privacy and more broadly, oversharing.
The types of abuse are varied, with well over a third (39%) of respondents have reported some form of violence or abuse from a current or previous partner: 16% of respondents had been sent unwanted emails or messages and perhaps most concerningly, 13% had been filmed or photographed without their consent. A further 10% admitted they had had their location tracked, 10% that their social media accounts or emails had been hacked, and worryingly, 7% had had stalkerware installed on their devices without their consent.
Proportionally more female respondents had experienced some form of violence or abuse compared to male respondents (42% versus 36%). More of those currently dating had experienced violence or abuse compared to those in a long-term relationship (48% versus 37%). 34% of respondents said they worried about the prospect of being stalked online, and female respondents were slightly more concerned at the prospect than males (36% were worried compared to 31% of male respondents).
“The Internet of Things, or connected world is brilliant and offers a myriad of possibilities. But with opportunity comes threats and one of those threats of a connected world is the ease of access to traceable data which leaves us vulnerable to abuse”, commented David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky. “Whilst the blame for these horrific behaviours never lies with stalking victims, unfortunately, there is still a burden upon them to take steps to minimise risks. I think it’s great that people are taking steps to verify identities online, but would encourage people to just stop and do a quick sense check on any information, passwords or data they share, to just think through how that information could be used in nefarious hands.”
“Navigating online dating and virtual spaces can be challenging and social media and dating apps must implement verification processes, which can help confirm that users’ profiles match their actual photos. To my knowledge, Bumble is the only dating app currently using this level of verification. I would love to see others adopting similar safety measures. Additionally, safety guides and resources should be readily accessible online in multiple languages, ensuring that vulnerable individuals have the necessary support without needing to register for an app,” commented Emma Pickering, Head of Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Economic Empowerment, Refuge. “The UK’s Online Safety Act sets a precedent by regulating platforms to protect users. Given the pervasive nature of stalking and technology-facilitated abuse, we advise individuals to secure their online presence, including passwords and accounts,” she added.