Honest Hacking: 1 in 10 have Hacked Someone's Email or Social Media for Ethical Reasons

New research from Online Spy Shop can reveal that a significant number of Britons are hacking one another's emails and social media. The study also revealed:

  • 2 in 3 of us are ‘accidental hackers,’ having inadvertently logged into someone else’s account

  • 90% of ‘accidental hackers’ failed to log out immediately

  • And half who stayed logged in performed at least one action in the account (see table below for what they did next)

  • 22% of us admit deliberately trying to access partner’s social media at least once - and 1 in 3 of those guessed the right password

  • Facebook is the social media account most likely to be hacked by a partner

Excuses for ‘ethical snooping’ include

  • Investigating infidelity

  • Helping someone make a surprise marriage proposal

  • Tracking down a missing person

  • Being asked by a significant other to check messages

Accidental hackers

62% of Britons have accidentally hacked their partner’s social media account, either by logging in on a shared computer or finding the account already logged in. Of those who inadvertently logged in to their partner’s account, only 1 in 10 (12%) immediately realised their mistake and logged out.

Half (48%) of those who stayed logged in performed at least one action. The other half claimed to have logged out after realising they were in the wrong account.

A dishonest 22% admit deliberately trying to access their partner’s social media accounts and of those who’ve tried it, almost 1 in 3 guessed the right password.

What’s the first thing accidental hackers do when they’re in their partner’s social media account?

Looked at inbox


Checked notifications


Opened a message


Posted from the account


Copied or forwarded a message


Facebook is the social media platform most likely to be accidentally hacked. 76% of those who admitted accessing someone else’s social media, either deliberately or by accident, used Facebook.

Ethical snooping - Case studies:

Eli Zheleva, 28 from Portsmouth used a browser vulnerability to hack her friend’s email, and reset her social media passwords to find her location after she went missing.

“A friend of mine went missing. Her housemate called me to let me know she's stormed off. Later on, he found a rather negative note buried under other paperwork on her desk. It wasn't suicidal as such, but it had lines such as "I don't want to live amongst people who'd rather I was not alive.”

“We didn't know where she was and she had left her phone at the house, thus we couldn't contact her, all we knew is that she'd had some alcohol to drink and then drove off, which worried us even more.

“She was supposed to take a flight to Bulgaria a week later and we were wondering if she'd rebooked her flight to leave earlier. We were desperate to discover her location.

"I used a trick I’d read about on a popular tech website that enables you to decrypt passwords that have been saved in a browser. This enabled me to get into her email to get the new password to access her Facebook to see if she’d contacted anyone. Once I was in her email, I was also able to see if she’d had any confirmations from the airline about changing her flight. We were then able to tell the police that she was probably still in the country, as our biggest concern was that she’d gone to Bulgaria.

“Thankfully she did turn up safe and well. The moral of the story is never to use the same passwords for different accounts. It was worryingly easy to get into her email account."

Rebecca Williams, a chef from Yorkshire is a prolific ‘honest hacker’, having accessed her brother’s Facebook account and the account of his ex girlfriend, without either knowing at the time.

“I logged into my brother’s Facebook account while he was on a plane to New York. He was planning a surprise proposal and one of his friends posted something on his wall that would have given the game away. I used his laptop and logged into his Facebook as his browser had saved his login details. Then I deleted the post. He was glad I did it when he found out.

“I also used Facebook to discover that his ex had been unfaithful. He’d said he was suspicious, so I went and found out. I guessed her password first time as it was very predictable. Then read her messages and saw what she’d been up to. He ended the relationship with her but didn’t tell her how he knew.”

Dale Davies, a digital marketing manager from Edinburgh, has an ‘open social media relationship’ with his girlfriend.

“I log in to my partner’s social media all the time. I post things on her behalf and check her messages, at her request. I don’t feel weird and I’ve never seen anything private or sensitive.”