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You have a smartphone; so does your significant other. In a few taps, you can track each other’s movements.
But should you?
Most people’s response is an emphatic, “No!”, but there are many who are rising in defence of tracking. A Samantha Williams article in The Independent, titled I track my boyfriend’s movements because I want to trust him more, not less, recently went viral. The reactions were extreme.
One commenter wrote, “This author does not deserve to have a partner. She is paranoid and a possible stalker.”
Another said, “If you were a man, and your partner was a woman, this sort of thing would most definitely be labeled emotional abuse.”
But is it really so wrong to track your partner’s movements, assuming it’s consensual?
Is It A Lack Of Trust Or A Breach Of Privacy?
A common response: tracking your partner’s movements signifies a lack of trust in the relationship. That’s what blogger and author Clint Edwards felt, when his wife installed the app on their phones.
“I felt a pit in my gut,” he writes. “Not because I’d done anything wrong, or that I was planning to do anything wrong. I wasn’t planning to run off to Mexico and find a new wife, or some other over the top exploit. I just didn’t like the idea of her knowing where I was all the time. It felt like an invasion of my privacy. It felt Big Brother creepy. I wondered if she was installing this because she didn’t trust me for some reason.”
You could argue the Williams article mentioned above loses the high ground on the trust issue with this statement:
Friends who think my behaviour is creepy, controlling or borderline obsessive have pointed out that just because you know where someone is doesn’t mean they are not in that place cheating on you. That’s true, but this is something which means he’d have a harder time getting away with it.
While Williams makes it about trust in a relationship, that’s not what many others see it as. Sometimes, it’s an instinctive reaction, but it quickly dissipates to other topics. That’s what eventually happened to Edwards as well.
The caveat here is that tracking works best when a couple has trust – and needs to be transparent. If it isn’t an open and acceptable situation to both parties, you need to know how to find spy software on your iPhone and be aware of its dangers.
Find My iPhone is great to locate and recover your stolen or lost iPhone – but that’s not all it’s good for. MakeUseOf’s own James Bruce uses the app to track his wife, Hui.
“We just thought it was a cool feature, and (already) know each other’s iCloud password. The question of tracking someone being moral or not never crossed our minds,” he says. “It’s never been about trust. I trust her 100%. Anyone who thinks it is about trust or who is disgusted by the idea probably has a guilty conscience.”
Hui says her first reaction was to question why they needed this, but that quickly went away. “We don’t have any secrets, so why would I mind?”
Catharine Higginson, a teacher who found out her husband tracks her location as well as other data on her phone, was initially miffed. But she too realised it wasn’t a trust issue for them, and that her husband saw it as a safety precaution for the whole family, including their children.
“While I was very shocked at first about the extent of the snooping I ultimately don’t have a problem with him doing this because I’m not up to anything,” she wrote in The Mirror.
Tracking Is Practical!
The purpose of technology is to make our lives easier. The supporters of tracking apps say that’s exactly what this is doing.
“Mostly, we just use it as a day to day convenience,” James explains. “She was at the doctor yesterday, so when I took the dog out for a walk, I used it to find her and see if she was on her way back or not; if so, I could go meet her halfway. Neither of us knows the local area that well, so rather than try to coordinate with road names she can’t pronounce or pull out Google maps anyway, it’s just convenient to find where she is and say ‘Keep walking on that road, I’ll be there in a bit’.”
Edwards recounts how he called his wife, who was running late for a meetup, to ask where she was. She told him to just use the tracking app. Why? She was driving, with the kids in the back, and thus risking an accident as well as going to jail for talking on the phone while driving. It was more practical for Edwards to use the app to see where she was.
Higginson mentions several instances where the tracking app has been useful. She missed an important text about a financial transfer, but her husband was able to get to it. She once woke up to a missed call from her daughter at 3am—naturally, panic set in – but through the tracking app, they could quickly figure out she was at a friend’s place, and accidentally dialed the phone in her sleep.
Both James and Higginson also say it’s a great safety feature, especially for people who are working late and travelling alone. Plus, it’s not mandatory. You can easily opt out of the tracking apps – or just turn off of your phone.
Inside The Minds Of The Trackees
For Edwards, the Find My iPhone app was actually an indication of how boring their lives had become – he or his wife would be in one of four places, and seeing that repeatedly was a reminder of becoming an old married couple. Until one day, his wife told him all the great stuff that happened inside their home, all the small achievements of their children.
“A lot of really exciting things happened today within our family. A lot of individual development. Just because what happened didn’t show up on Find a Friend, doesn’t mean it wasn’t important,” his wife says.
Of course, you can go beyond just tracking location. You can even spy on your spouse with your computer to get everything from text messages to even remotely switching on their phone’s camera. So where do you draw the line? At what point do you need to protect yourself from unethical spying?
James and Hui Bruce don’t think seeing each other’s messages would be a big deal, since they already share an iPad which has both inboxes.
“Whatever. I don’t get any important emails anyway,” says Hui. “Probably it would be easier because I wouldn’t need to forward anything for him to see.The only problem is trying to buy presents — he can see what shops I go into!”
Most of the aforementioned cases also have friends and family who think there is an invasion of privacy and a lack of trust in their relationships. The couples themselves aren’t that bothered about those things, but trust issues do rear their ugly head every now and then.
“Someone else made an interesting point to me that if your other half installs a spying app on your phone maybe it’s because, actually, he’s got something to hide,” writes Higginson. “I hadn’t thought about that – could (my husband) be cheating on me? I don’t think so. But as I don’t control our apps, I wouldn’t know.”
Would You Be Okay With Tracking?
Do these couples make a good enough case for you to take up tracking in your relationships? Do you still think it’s spying on your significant other? In a related vein: should parents spy on their kids? Let’s discuss in the comments.