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Online spousal spying widespread in the UK

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One in five married UK couples admit to electronic snooping on their spouses, says a report from Oxford University. The report found that many married partners spy on their partner's emails and text messages. One in eight (13 per cent) confessed to checking on internet history files to monitor sites visited by their better halves.

The survey (pdf) unearthed mixed feelings about technology. While many described the net as an essential tool for starting and maintaining a relationship, the majority (85 per cent) disliked the idea that their partners might be flirting online. "Online infidelity" was considered almost as bad as the real thing.

A large majority (94 per cent) also disapproved of cybersex. Sharing personal information about the other partner online also got a big thumbs down, with 88 per cent describing it as unacceptable. A similar majority (89 per cent) disapproved of the idea of their partner discussing relationship troubles with third parties on the net.

While there was general agreement about the acceptability or otherwise of various online behaviours, 46 per cent of couples were in disagreement about the acceptability of a partner viewing ‘adult’ sites. Unsurprisingly, men were far more likely to consider visits to smutty sites acceptable than women.

The survey is part of a larger project, entitled Me, My Spouse and the Internet, by the University's Internet Institute. More than 6,000 married people were invited to take part in the study. The final sample involved 929 couples, with both partners completing a questionnaire.

While face-to-face communications remained the most important way for couples to discuss marital issues, technology was also found to play a significant role in many relationships. More than half (51 per cent) used the phone to discuss personal matters while text messaging (27 per cent of respondents), and email (14 per cent of respondents) were also widely used by partners to keep in touch or resolve problems. However, four in five said they would never use email to discuss personal matters.

Technology is also playing an important role in bringing couples together in the first place. Around six per cent of married internet users said they first met their partner online. A third of this group met through an online dating site while one in five (19 per cent) met in a chatroom and a similar number (18 per cent) first hooked up through an instant messaging site. Those who met online were more likely to have a gap in ages of greater than six years.

Married internet users who first met offline were most likely to have met in a bar or pub (25 per cent), at work (19 per cent) or through friends (14 per cent). ®

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