I Don't Know If The Government Is Spying On Me, But My Family Definitely Is

Confession: I am terrified of technology.

I blame 'Terminator Genisys', 'Live Free Or Die Hard', YouTube conspiracy theorists, and a touch of Orwell thrown in there, too.

I’ve found these anxieties are easily balanced through online shopping and funny animal memes, but this still doesn’t stop my family gleefully paying the hell out of me for my irrational overcautiousness, especially when it comes to Apple having access to anything that even remotely resembles a fingerprint or location.

Phase-one testing of Apple fingerprint technology.

So when my eldest son started driving last year and suggested we get a family tracking app for peace of mind, my answer was a definitive no, followed by a rant about dystopian societies, microchipping and government control. They didn’t even hear me; too occupied with downloading Life360 to their phones and marvelling at all the cool features.

It took many weeks to succumb to the app; eventually worn down by peer pressure from the Gen Z’ers of the family. And while I have no doubt the government are documenting my every move, I am forced to concede there are some benefits to this somewhat controversial means of spying on monitoring the whereabouts of family members.

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For me, I have found the app most useful with my son having to do long drives on country roads, either by himself or with his three siblings in the car also -- the same roads that have tragically taken the lives of too many young people we have known and loved. There is absolute peace of mind in monitoring where he is on the road (especially when we think he should have been home 10 minutes ago), and being notified when he reaches his destination safely.

But here’s what else I have found. If you have a tendency toward helicopter (or any kind of neurotic) parenting, this is not the app for you. I cannot state this enough.

Trust me; I am the antithesis of helicopter parenting (here kids, it’s a nice day, take this packed lunch and don’t come home until dark!), yet when given the power to spy on my children, I watched helplessly as my life soon morphed into 'The Truman Show', unable to stop myself checking the app every three minutes when he was out with his mates -- "Why is he at this person’s house instead of that person’s? The movie finished an hour ago, why is he still in town? What is he doing still at the beach after dark? Is he having sex? Doing drugs? Is his car bogged? Is he dead? Do we need to go and see?"

Just freakin' out over here, no biggie...

The fact is, teenagers still need to be teenagers. They need the freedom and independence to make mistakes without someone watching over their shoulder. They need to feel trusted and to know their parents will allow them to make their own choices. We can use the app to make sure our teenagers have arrived safely, sure. But then put the damn thing away and let them get on with being teenagers.

Other benefits of the app I’ve seen are less need for calling/texting/general hassling of my children about where they are and when they’ll be home. They have also felt safer knowing they can be easily located should a problem arise.

Likewise, they can easily locate me if need be; the days I’m late picking them up from school they know where I am, or times we’ve been out as a family and gone separate ways – the ease of which we can regroup when we’re able to see each other’s whereabouts.

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Which leads to another point to consider: family tracking apps are a two-way thing. If you have the ability to spy on monitor other members of your family, they too, have the same ability to spy on monitor you.

This was not something I dealt well with, initially. Not because I have anything to hide. But because it felt so invasive, and caused me to feel I had to justify and explain my movements to my partner to alleviate potential worry or suspicion. This was especially true when away for boozy nights out work: I’m just catching up with so-and-so for an after-work drink. I’m just heading out to grab some food. I’m going to check out that new gin bar on the way back from my performance tonight.

Very important business meeting, don't wait up.

I need not have felt this way -- my partner is generally at home asleep on the couch, content in the knowledge I made it to the city safely and can be located if need be. Beyond this, he recognises I’m a grown-arse woman who can make her own choices and look after herself. Likewise, the only time I bother to see where he is, is when I’m chafing for a wine and wondering how much longer I can be bothered waiting for him before I open a bottle.

But without a doubt, the potential for living in a state of paranoid hell well and truly rests within this app – again, this is not the app for you, should you be prone to suspicious nature or trust issues in your relationship.

What I’ve learned most from using a family tracking app is they can be beneficial, but they aren’t for everyone. Like all technology, there is the potential for it to be used for both good and evil. I’ve found the most important factor is being able to disengage from the concept of spying, and simply view the app as means of being a connected family who are able to locate one another if and when needed.

For now, I continue to allow peace of mind to override my fear of technology. I don’t think the government are too close behind me, yet.

Somewhere, George Orwell rolls in his grave.

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