Is secretly tracking a loved one’s email or phone history acceptable in a relationship, or is it evidence of lack of trust?
A recent study by Retrevo, an online gathering of gadget experts, polls whether people would secretly track a child or partner through email or phone history. I’m italicizing secretly because that aspect of the study is pivotal and, for me, of weightier import than the unsurprising numbers it reports.
It turns out more than half of parents polled, almost 60%, have no qualms with the idea of secretly using a cell phone or electronic device to track a child. And this sly behavior didn’t seem like such a bad idea, at least to those polled, when applied to adult relationships—about 33% of women and 31% of men said they’d have no problem with tracking a romantic partner in the same way.
My issue with these findings is simple: the sneaking around part with this form of monitoring implies that the other party, whether child or adult partner, is not worthy of trust. Their private life is suspect. This is a different thing altogether than an open dipping into an intimate’s electronic correspondence; this surveyed hypothetical implies willful invasion of assumed privacy.
Let’s set aside whether the electronic medium as a whole is private or not. That is a charged and too-broad topic, and there is strong evidence for both sides. The fall of The World News indicates that snooping is absolutely reprehensible in the public view.
And we all know it’s a fine line, whether you consider the medium worthy of privacy protection or not, chances are, correspondence within it will find its way into the public light.
Scores of public figures know that private messages shared in a potentially public realm, such as Twitter or email or texting, can become fodder for mass gossip, creating humiliating spectacle and ruining careers. Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner learned the hard way that grey underwear-clad erections sent to scores of unsuspecting Tweet recipients is just not the right political message. Actor Alec Baldwin will think again before losing his cool on an answering machine, since his impetuous name-calling toward his daughter left his fans aghast. Let’s not even talk about Mel Gibson’s vile voice messages to ex-lover Oksana Grigorieva. Or the string of philanderers revealed by lewd-texts-made-public, Jesse James, anyone?
Anything and everything created using the current interconnected technological platforms is automatically, at least for the majority of us, documented in perpitude. Does that dilute its sanctity? Well, apparently it does. Between 2010 and 2011, the percentage of people who would secretly track email and phone history jumped to nearly 10%, and it is higher as you look to younger and younger groups, accustomed to this electronic medium and its platforms.
Back to the hiccup in the study; the word secretly. There is software available that allows parents to spy on their children’s internet activity. Not monitor it, but spy on it. Again according to Retrevo, nearly 60% of parents think this is just fine.
This is a trust issue.
Doing anything secretly inside a relationship, be it romantic, parental, or other, speaks to a problem with the relationship. I have a nine-year-old son who is quickly, too quickly for my taste, approaching the age where he may create a Facebook account, an active email account with actual correspondence between him and a peer, a cell phone history (once he catches up on his chores).
Will I secretly track that history? No way. That doesn’t mean I will refrain from monitoring his electronic activity.
It does mean that I will sit him down, and I will make it clear his electronic privileges exist at my discretion and that the Internet and texting and emailing all pose risks as well as conveniences. That it is my duty to protect him and that it is his duty to use the platforms appropriately.
My wife has asked me to check her email when she is out of service range. I have asked her the same. If her cell phone is blowing up next to me, I will check it because we have discussed this. We have a relationship built on trust. The spying software, the easily hack-able emails, the documented text and phone history, all have provided us with an opportunity to avoid confronting trust in a relationship. We can sidestep the difficult conversation; refrain from establishing the necessary hierarchy between parent and child.
As a father and husband, I feel it is my duty to ignore the urge to turn inward and rationalize dishonest behavior. The larger question, left out of Retrevo’s study, is: do you know how to respect the ones you love? If so, be clear and open about what you want to know about their lives, and the rest is gravy. It takes chutzpah—not secret tracking—to love well.
—Photo Cara Photography/Flickr