Two days ago, teacher Catharine Higginson, 45, told The Mirror about a discovery she'd made regarding her husband, James, 42.
After 10 years of marriage I had always believed husband James and I didnt have secrets from one another.
Turns out there was a huge, totally shocking one that I only discovered by accident.
Last year I was teaching in a particular building at school where there was no mobile phone reception which meant I missed a text from my bank with an activation code to make an important financial transfer.
When I got home I started to apologise to my husband James who immediately replied, "Oh, don't worry about it – I've sorted it."
When I looked at him, puzzled, he continued: "I was able to get into your phone and locate the code to activate the transaction" before casually adding: "I don't need you here to be able to read your text messages."
She revealed that he'd "installed a tracking app by Cerberus on my phone and those used by my children Daisy, 19, Tilly, 16, and Max, 12, from my first marriage."
And Twitter had a lot to say about it:
In The Mirror, journalist Abi Wilkinson wrote a blog post expressing her concern over the couple's arrangement.
She defends his behaviour as evidence of him "caring about [her] wellbeing". However, while nobody has accused her husband of domestic abuse, what she describes could be seen as the controlling dynamic of an abusive relationship. ...
If there were real safety reasons for installing the app – an argument I find fairly unconvincing – it should have been something they discussed and decided on together. It's significant that in their relationship, she doesn't have access to his private information. The surveillance is all one way.
So BuzzFeed News reached out to Higginson to get her views on the reaction. She said it was "utterly ridiculous":
I am especially amused by the people who've decided that I'm an abused wife or that our marriage is in trouble. I think this probably goes to show that readers like to make snap judgments without having all the facts and don't bother to read between the lines. I do think the the idea (that your phone is not secure) is "spooky" – but I do not in any shape of form find James listening to me / reading my texts spooky. This is my husband and best mate for goodness' sake. ...
Personally I'd find it much more "creepy" if I was in a relationship where the person wouldn't let me have the password to their computer. I don't think total transparency is creepy at all. If you've got nothing to hide, there's no big deal.
We asked her about the fact that while her husband could track her, she couldn't track him. Higginson replied:
I do have it – I just don't need to use it. I don't see it as unfair; there would be no point in me tracking his whereabouts as he works from home. If he was out and I wanted to track him I could simply log into his computer and see where he was. I could also read his texts but that would be pointless as he doesn't ever really text anyone. But whilst I was at his computer I would check his emails / messages which is something I do regularly if he is out. We work together and share an office so checking each others emails etc is something that happens all the time and neither of us has any issue with it.
And she also gave us her thoughts on the wider issue of privacy:
I really feel for kids today. They are the first generation to be handed smartphones without any real explanation of the best way to use this really powerful thing called the internet. No wonder they get it wrong. On the one hand they say they want "privacy" and on the other, they are happy to snapchat a picture of their penis to the world at large. As my daughter put it, "Dick pics are what counts for courting these days. I despair of my generation."
I think we are still a way off establishing what is and isn't OK to do online. Technology is changing on an almost daily basis and if someone like me (who is relatively tech savvy) can be shocked at the tracking capability of a smartphone, then older people or kids are going to struggle to get to grips with the topic.
She also told BuzzFeed News that as her and her husband had been running a website for expats for five years they were "perhaps more clued up about stuff like this", but they were amazed by "how naive some people are when it comes to privacy". She added: "Nothing is 100% secure so you should never put anything in an email / post anything online that you wouldn't be happy with the entire world seeing, because it could happen."
And she seems keen to live by the mantra: Here she is telling her daughter about the app in public on Facebook.
Regarding the app being on her daughter's phone, Higginson told BuzzFeed News:
The phone contracts are all in James's name so it is actually his app, I take the line that as we pay the bills, we get to decide what is on them. Our daughters have no problem with the app as they know that we have better things to do than read their text messages and that we've only ever used it to locate them. They both see it as a sensible precaution. I find it very reassuring to know that if anything did happen, we would be able to see where they last were, who they spoke to, who had texted etc.
These days with teenagers using dating apps like Tinder and Lovoo and meeting god knows who online, any parent who doesn't make sure they know what their kids are up to is, I think, being deeply irresponsible. And there's no point burying your head in the sand either regarding teenagers and "privacy" – I have friends whose 17-year-olds refuse to be friends with their parents on Facebook. Sounds OK until you see photos of the kid off their face out clubbing at 5am whilst the parents are clearly oblivious and posting that they have the house to themselves as said teenager is having a sleepover with a schoolfriend!
James also sent his thoughts:
People need to bear in mind that we use this app passively – it's there if we need it. I don't sit behind my screen monitoring my family! There are loads of other apps like messenger and whats app that pull exactly the same type of data. The only difference here is that we are using the data rather than some big organisation. Equally they'll find my iPhone feature is an integral element of all iPhones – is this spying?!
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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