Love, Relationships, and Technology: Private Data Sharing Habits of Americans Revealed

McAfee conducted a study that looks into the private data sharing habits of Americans, and how over-sharing has led to privacy leaks and online exposure of private or intimate photos, finding that 35 percent of Americans plan to send romantic photos to their significant others via email, text, or social media on Valentine's Day.

McAfee today released findings from the company’s 2013 Love, Relationships, and Technology survey, which examines the pitfalls of sharing personal data in relationships and discloses how breakups can lead to privacy leaks online. The study highlights the need for consumers to take steps to protect themselves from cyber-stalking and exposure of private information.

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How safe are your habits on the internet? See how you rank among other Americans.

Nearly two-thirds of smartphone owners have personal and intimate information on their mobile devices, such as bank account information, passwords, credit card numbers, and revealing photos, yet only 40 percent have password protection on their devices. This leaves a gap in personal data protection, which results in exposure.

“We’re all aware of the cases involving celebrities, but you don’t have to be a celebrity to have your personal information exposed,” said Michelle Dennedy, an online security expert for McAfee. “Sharing passwords with your partner might seem harmless, but it often puts you at risk for a ‘revenge of the ex’ situation, landing private information in a public platform for all to see. Everyone needs to be aware of the risks and take the steps to make sure their personal data is safe and secure.”

Nearly 25 percent of those surveyed believe that the next celebrity hack might target Taylor Swift, and 50 percent of respondents believed Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were the next celebrity couple to be involved in a cyber-scandal. Celebrities, and the general public, should be extra careful when it comes to protecting the contents on their mobile phones from their exes. The McAfee study revealed that:
Revenge of the Ex: About 1 in 10 Americans have been threatened by an ex-partner to reveal their risqué photos for reasons including lying (45.3%), cheating (40.6%), or breaking up with him/her (26.6%). Once threatened, these actions to post such images were carried out 60% of the time.

Of those surveyed these were the partner actions that lead to the exposure of personal data:

  • Lied (45%)
  • Cheated (41%)
  • Broke up with me (27%)
  • Called off wedding (14%)
  • Posted picture with someone else (13%)
  • Other (13%)

About a fourth of the population has regretted sending such intimate content after a break up and 32 percent of people have even asked their ex-partner to delete all personal content.

Password Sharing: About 50 percent of Americans share their passwords with their partners, which can potentially result in serious consequences if a breakup is on the horizon and your ex-partner is looking for revenge.

Cyber Stalking: When armed with their partner’s passwords, a majority of Americans snoop and check out their partners’ emails, bank accounts and social media pages. More than 56 percent of people surveyed admitted to checking their significant others’ social media pages and bank accounts and nearly 50 percent log in to scan their partners’ emails. People track their ex-partner on Facebook more than they do their current partners.

Males snoop on their partners more than their female counterparts. Forty-six percent of men admitted to tracking their partner, ex-partner or partner’s ex on Facebook or Twitter, compared to 37 percent of females. Additionally, on average, 57 percent of men admitted to checking their partner’s email, social media pages, or bank accounts, compared to 52 percent of females.
Private Data: Thirteen percent of adults have had their personal content leaked to others without permission. The most popular data shared by partners include:

o   Bank account numbers (62.5%)
o   Health insurance ID’s (60.7%)
o   Social Security numbers (56.9%)
o   Email accounts (59.7%)
o   Passwords (53.6%)

When personal data is leaked, males are more likely to fight back to recover what was lost. About 15 percent of people who have had content leaked online hired an attorney and took legal actions to recover their information and have embarrassing photos removed from websites. A quarter of the population has broken into the emails of those who leaked the data to find proof and recover what was lost. The most popular form of fighting back was to confront the individual in person (47%) or online (36%).

Sending Personal Content
Despite the risks, 36 percent of Americans still plan to send sexy or romantic photos to their partners via email, text and social media on Valentine’s Day. Significantly more men plan to do so, compared to women (43% vs. 29%), even though men get threatened to have their photos exposed online more than women (12% vs. 8%) and often have the threats carried out more than women (63% vs. 50%).
Unprotected Devices
Nearly 40 percent of Americans leave their phone open and unprotected without a password, letting anyone who picks up the device access all their private content. Nearly 3 out of every 10 people never back up or save the content on their smartphones and about a fifth of Americans rarely or never delete any personal or intimate text messages emails and photos.

About the study
MSI International conducted a total of 1,182 online interviews in the U.S. among adults ages 18-54. Interviews among respondents were split evenly by age and gender, and achieved geographic distribution according to the US census. The interviews were conducted from Dec. 14- 30, 2012.

McAfee Private Data Valentine's Day Survey