Weekend read: The Adultery Arms Race

I’m not judging. And I think this goes beyond questions of fidelity, I think it goes in to issues of our individuality. As tools let us always know where our partners and friends are, there is a convenience similar to the way that you have forgotten what it was like arranging a place to meet and having to stick to it. We all send a text now saying we’re a bit late or can we try that Sushi place next door?

There is also an easing, a relief, a reassurance. If my wife is away driving a long route, I do worry about her so in theory being able to see that she’s got there would be good. I can do this, we can do this, but I won’t. If she takes a left turn and wanders off down a scenic route, isn’t that her business? If the scenic route is a euphemism then my heart rate just went up but still, fundamentally, I don’t own her. I need to keep her by making her want to be, not because I’ve got GotchaApp 2.1.

The Atlantic website is less concerned than I am about individuality, it’s initially more concerned with the betrayed spouse. But in a piece that is at first 1984-like worrying, it goes through both the technical and some of the emotional issues – plus for all the tools to help someone catch their partner, it turns out there are tools helping the partner evade detection. Hence The Atlantic’s title of The Adultery Arms Race.

Here’s a taste from the start:

In an earlier era, a suspicious husband like Jay might have rifled through Ann’s pockets or hired a private investigator. But having stumbled upon Find My iPhone’s utility as a surveillance tool, Jay wondered what other apps might help him keep tabs on his wife. He didn’t have to look far. Spouses now have easy access to an array of sophisticated spy software that would give Edward Snowden night sweats: programs that record every keystroke; that compile detailed logs of our calls, texts, and video chats; that track a phone’s location in real time; that recover deleted messages from all manner of devices (without having to touch said devices); that turn phones into wiretapping equipment; and on and on.

Jay spent a few days researching surveillance tools before buying a program called Dr. Fone, which enabled him to remotely recover text messages from Ann’s phone. Late one night, he downloaded her texts onto his work laptop. He spent the next day reading through them at the office. Turns out, his wife had become involved with a co-worker. There were thousands of text messages between them, many X‑rated—an excruciatingly detailed record of Ann’s betrayal laid out on Jay’s computer screen. “I could literally watch her affair progress,” Jay told me, “and that in itself was painful.”

The Adultery Arms Race – Michelle Cottle, The Atlantic (14 October 2014)

Read the full piece.