Family & Friends

Who’s Watching You on the Web?

Suzy reads every email her fifteen­-year­-old son writes to his girlfriend. How? Months ago, David borrowed his mother’s laptop. When he returned it, she realized that he’d forgotten to log out of his email account. Which means that when her son is in his bedroom emailing his girlfriend about what a witch his mom is, his mother is in her home office down the hall, reading every word.

“I’m not an interfering snoop,“ she says to me. “I’m an involved, caring parent.’” Suzy knew the moment David and his girlfriend became sexually active. She phoned Allie’s mom, and the two moms planned strategy. They figured that they couldn’t stop the kids, but Allie’s mom did make sure that her daughter was using effective birth control.

And Suzi continues to keep Allie’s mom in the loop about what the kids are up to. When Allie sent David an email boasting about the foolproof hiding place she’d found for her drug stash, Suzi quickly phoned Allie’s mom, so she could find and flush it.

David is personable and bright, Suzy tells me, but he’s also impulsive and immature. “I’m going to make sure he graduates high school and gets into college if it kills me,” she vows.

As for violating her son’s privacy? That‘s a small price to pay, she feels, to achieve that goal.

My friend Deb doesn’t have the same window into her own son’s private life, but sometimes when he’s in the shower, she’ll slip into his bedroom and take a peek at the browsing history on the laptop he’s left open on his desk.

“So what do you find?“ I ask.

“Nothing special,” she shrugs. “Gaming, music. A little porn. All perfectly normal. But if he ever gets into anything weird or dangerous, I’ll know about it.”

Is there anything wrong with this snooping? “When our mom cleaned my brother’s room,” Deb says, “she used to find the Playboys he’d stashed under his mattress. What’s the difference?”

Whenever George, an attorney in his fifties, writes a personal email, his 14­-year­-old son can read every line. Computer­savvy Sam set up and maintains both his dad and mom’s computers. Even though his folks broke up two years ago, because he continues to help them with everything computer­related, he’s able to access both their email accounts.

When his mom remarried, Sam became the go-­to computer person for his new step-dad as well.

Which means that whenever his folks fire angry emails back and forth about custody and visitation, their son is in the loop, reading over their shoulders.

Beth and Ted are both retired academics in their 70s. During one of our recent chats, Beth confided that she knows that her husband of 40 years visits internet porn sites. “He has no idea that I access his browsing history,“ she told me. “ He stays up and looks at sex sites after I go to sleep. In the morning, he sleeps in and I check out where he’s been over my morning coffee.” She grins. “It sure beats reading the obits.”

Does his porn surfing trouble her? “It would bother me if our sex life wasn’t good,” she says. “But I figure this is what he does instead of being unfaithful. So, really, it works for both of us.“

“If he knew that you knew, would he be shocked?“ I ask.

“Probably.” She smiles. “But he’ll never know.”

So I wasn’t at all surprised when all of those “private” sexy celebrity photos and Sony corporate emails were recently leaked all over the internet.

Internet privacy? You’re kidding me, right? There’s no such thing.

“Email is skywriting,” a friend who is also a divorce lawyer often reminds me. “Never say or do anything online that you wouldn’t be comfortable reading about on the front page of your daily newspaper.”

“If you reveal your secrets to the wind,” the poet Kahlil Gibran once said, “you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.”

And if you reveal your secrets to your laptop, you should not blame it for revealing them to your spouse, your mom, your boss, Matt Drudge, People Magazine or The Channel Ten News Team.

The next time you go online, just imagine that the entire world is reading over your shoulder. It might encourage you to keep your secrets to yourself.

And if not? I look forward to reading all about you in the National Enquirer.

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    Harold Hansen

    Roz Warren,
    Thanks so much!
    I’ve had people tell me about things I have sent and I have wondered how people just know happen to know where you are too. It’s almost like “Boo!”
    And then this picture shows up. I would appreciate your time in explaining why this can be done, and it would be helpful to know how to do it so I can watch on some of my rivals that ( been stealing ) from me I think. Thank you Roz! Also, I wondered if you would tell me the best class you’ve taken are what you attribute to your talent in your writing career. I have dreamt about this, and I’ve found very often there was 1enlightening story that gave exactly what someone like you’re self had looked for. Thanks so much! I do thank you! And I will stay in touch if you’d like. I would. Sincerely, Harold Hansen☺️

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    It’s more than family members reading your emails as Edward Snowden informed us. Also: google Dana Priests’ series in the Washington Post on the NSA bureaucracy from a few years ago. For the latest, check out https://www.epic.org/ Electronic Privacy Information Center

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    Linda Roy

    Excellent piece Roz. My teenage son left his Facebook page logged in on my computer and I looked at it, though I didn’t feel good about doing it. I was relieved to find that, as I suspected, there was nothing to be worried about. But I do think where social media and the internet are concerned, it’s good to check in now and then and be aware of what’s going where the kids are concerned. It’s a complicated world now.

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    I am shocked there aren’t more comments from parents or spouses about privacy. I think kids especially are not really cognizant of the pitfalls of emails. I am all for snooping on line. The comment that emails are like skywriting or your comment about seeing it in the Enquirer are perfect!

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