Amid Lockdown and Curfew, Online Creeping on the Rise: Survey
Norton surveyed over 10,000 adults, including 1,000 Indian adults, to assess consumers’ online habits.
The Quint DAILY
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Ratika Sharma (name changed), a Pune-based student, noticed all her photos on Instagram were liked by a stranger. But what she construed as usual online behaviour soon turned worrying once the stranger messaged her.
"The first time he sent me a message, I ignored. But, he started messaging me every day. He would ask me whether I would go out on a date with him, which I continued to ignore. The story doesn't end there. He then started to threaten me, to an extent that he said that he will 'forcefully' make me his wife", she said.
Ratika had to report him and seek legal help, in order to get rid of the cyber stalker.
In India, cyber crimes like online harassment and cyberstalking have not been given the deserved priority. Over the last year, online stalking has been picking up due to increased reach and easily available information that can be effortlessly manipulated.
Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma at a virtual press conference said that online harassment, including cyberstalking, towards women has increased by 500 percent.
Keeping a check on what people post online is typically considered to be benign behaviour. However, when this becomes a pattern and one infringes on someone’s privacy and uses the information to harass someone online, it become a case of cyber stalking. And the use of technology to discreetly track activity on someone’s personal device, is called as online creeping.
The imposition of lockdowns and curfews that have forced many to spend more time at home, saw an increase in perpetrators of tech-enabled abuse.
NortonLifeLock’s 2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report, conducted online among 10,030 adults (aged 18+) in 10 countries, shared some India specific data on online creeping.
Increase in Cyberstalking
The researchers at Norton surveyed over 1,000 Indian adults to assess consumers’ online habits and whether it diverges into cyberstalking
According to the report, 74 percent of Indian adults who have been in a romantic relationship admitted to 'stalking' their current or former partner online without their knowledge or consent.
The most common forms of stalking, it was revealed, were reviewing the search history on their partner’s device (32 percent); checking text messages, phone calls, direct messages, emails or photos on their partner’s device (31 percent); and tracking their partner’s location through a location-sharing app (29 percent) – all without their partner’s knowledge or consent.
Furthermore, 26 percent said that they used their knowledge of their partner’s passwords to access the latter’s devices and online accounts, while 25 percent used an app to surreptitiously monitor their text messages, phone calls, direct messages, emails, or photos.
Among those who had stalked a current or former partner, 39 percent said they wanted to make sure they were safe physically and/or mentally; 36 percent said they wanted to know what their partner was doing; while 33 percent claimed they took to online stalking when they found out that their partners were doing the same to them.
“For most people, checking up on someone online is not a crime. However, this behaviour becomes problematic when it becomes a pattern, wherein technology is used to track someone’s activities," said Ritesh Chopra, Director Sales and Field Marketing, India & SAARC Countries, NortonLifeLock.
“The report suggests that almost half of Indian adults would be more likely to stalk their current/former partner online if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. It is therefore crucial for Indians to understand the difference between checking up and stalking someone," he added.
It is interesting to note that 52 percent of Indian adults believe that it is harmless to stalk a current or former partner online while 59 percent believe that online stalking is okay if it is to check on their partner’s physical or mental health.
Use of Mobile Stalkerware
It is worth noting that at least 4,627 mobile users in India are found to be victims of stalkerware apps – a secret surveillance application used to track call logs, location, and other personal activity.
“Location tracking, using a device’s GPS sensors, is the most common form of surveillance, both in terms of the number of apps that track location, and the number of users affected by it. However, with many apps devoted to social media monitoring (with WhatsApp being the most prevalent), hidden automatic call recorders have been seen to affect a larger number of users.”Ritesh Chopra, Director Sales & Field Marketing, NortonLifeLock
Under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, stalking is defined as ‘an act where any man repeatedly follows and contacts a woman so as to foster personal interaction despite a clear indication of interest by such woman.’ However, it only applies to stalking by a man of a woman any other stalking is not an offence under Indian Penal Code(IPC) .
The law presumes that women do not stalk as it only protects women from stalking when the stalker is a man.
It is worth noting that third provision to 354D of IPC says "in the particular circumstances such conduct was reasonable and justified." The need to highlight the ineffectiveness of stalking laws in India is long overdue.
Dos and Don'ts
If you’re looking to take steps to protect yourself against stalkerware, it’s always a good idea to install a security app on Android to monitor your device.
This will scan for the presence of potentially unwanted apps and flag them to you so that you can make an informed decision about what’s on your phone.
Chopra explains a few pointers to help you protect against cyberstalking, whether it’s directed at you, your devices, or your family:
- Be careful about allowing physical access to your computer and other web-enabled devices like smartphones. Cyberstalkers can use software and hardware devices (sometimes attached to the back of your PC without you even knowing it) to monitor their victims.
- Be sure you always log out of your computer programs when you step away from the computer and use a screensaver with a password.
- Create complex passwords and never share them with others and be sure to change your passwords frequently. A password manager can help with this task.
- Delete or make private any online calendars or where you list events you plan to attend. That information could allow a cyberstalker to know where and when you are planning to be somewhere.
- A lot of personal information is often displayed on social networks, such as your name, date of birth, where you work, and where you live. Use the privacy settings in all your online accounts to limit your online sharing with those outside your trusted circle.
- If you post photos online via social networks or other methods, be sure to turn off the location services metadata in the photo. The metadata reveals a lot of information about the photo – where and when it was taken, what device it was taken on, and other confidential information.
- If you break up with someone that you were in a relationship with, be sure to change all of your online passwords. It’s good practice and an extra layer of protection.
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