SINGAPORE, Feb 16 — Around two in five Singaporeans have admitted to installing monitoring tools and “stalkerware” on the phones of their partners in order to spy on them, a survey has found.

The survey, commissioned by Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, also found that more than one in four respondents (27 per cent) experienced some form of “online stalking” from a person they were newly dating.

This refers to using the internet or other electronic means to “exhibit classic stalking behaviour” — including harassment and tracking a person’s location and activities, Kaspersky said.

Online stalking could also include actions to intimidate victims or “make their lives unbearable”.

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The survey, which Kaspersky said revealed “shocking data about the extent of digital abuse”, involved online interviews with 21,000 people from 21 countries across four continents.

It was conducted by global market research firm Arlington Research from Jan 3 to 17 this year.

Among the 1,000 survey respondents from Singapore, about seven in 10 (71 per cent) were aged between 25 and 54.

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Those in the 16-to-24 and 55-to-64 age groups each made up 11 per cent of the group, while the rest (7 per cent) were aged 65 and above.

The majority of Singapore’s respondents were in a relationship (86.5 per cent), while the rest were not dating but had been in a relationship in the past.

The extent of digital abuse

The survey found that two in five (40 per cent) respondents had reported experiencing some form of digital abuse. This included:

• Receiving unwanted emails or messages (13 per cent)

• Being filmed or photographed without their consent (16 per cent)

• Getting tracked by their location (11 per cent)

• Having their email or social media accounts hacked (9 per cent)

• Having had stalkerware installed on their devices without their consent (12 per cent)

Also, more than two in five (42 per cent) Singaporeans admitted to installing monitoring tools and “stalkerware” on the phones of their partners, which Kaspersky described as “concerning”.

Stalkerware refers to commercial software designed for spying. The presence of such software can be concealed from a phone’s user by hiding the icons from lists of installed applications, and by not displaying notifications.

Kaspersky said that these include malicious Trojan spyware — malware that conceals its true content to fool a user into thinking it is a harmless file — as well as open market commercial monitoring tools in the form of useful mobile applications such as parental controls.

Some stalkerware can even mimic other programs, including system applications.

Mr Adrian Hia, Kaspersky’s managing director for the Asia-Pacific region, described such stalkerware as “insidious tools” that “fuel harmful behaviour”.

The company said that 39 per cent of the survey’s male respondents admitted to “bugging” their partners’ devices, while 25 per cent of the survey’s female respondents did the same.

In order to “make sure (their partners) were doing what they said they were”, about one in five (22 per cent) of Singapore’s respondents admitted tracking their partners’ whereabouts.

They did so by using either real-time social media updates, location tracking apps, or third-party tracking software.

Other findings globally tabulated from the survey included:

• A third (34 per cent) of the respondents believed that using Google to search for a person you are dating or checking their social media accounts were acceptable as a form of due diligence

• About 41 per cent admitted to doing so when they started dating someone

• More than 90 per cent of the respondents are willing to share passwords that could potentially allow their location to be accessed

• Proportionally more female respondents had experienced some form of violence or abuse (42 per cent) compared to male respondents (36 per cent)

• About 34 per cent of the respondents said that they worried about the prospect of being stalked online, with female respondents being slightly more concerned at the prospect (36 per cent) than males (31 per cent)

Commenting on these findings in the global survey’s news release, Kaspersky’s principal security researcher David Emm said: “While 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.”

He added that he would encourage people to “just stop and do a quick sense check on any information, passwords or data they share” and to “think through how that information could be used in nefarious hands”. — TODAY