A relationship expert has called it “the modern day equivalent of giving someone the key to your house…”
There’s no doubt about it: our relationship with technology is changing, and fast.
This is particularly true with our phones. Whereas once we may have used these rectangular devices for little more than typing out a text or making the odd phone call (remember the days of making actual voice calls?), they are now, undoubtedly, the linchpins of our lives.
They wake us up with their alarms in the morning, and send us to sleep with a variety of apps in the night. That’s not to mention how much we rely on them throughout the day, too; so much so, that the average Brit checks their phone once every 12 minutes, spending a total of 24 hours online every week.
Our mobiles hold our social calendars, our photos, our emails. We use them to scroll through carefully curated Instagram feeds of strangers, or stalk our favourite celebrities on Twitter. Tailored technology has muscled into almost every aspect of our day, sorting our social, work, entertainment, and dietary needs before we’ve even had our first cuppa.
And with devices playing such a dominant role in our lives, it’s hardly surprising that access to the data they contain is an ever-more powerful tool. From our spending habits to our Goodreads account, and even tracking the intricacies of our menstrual cycle, the information that hides behind our passcode can be a peek into our relationships, our personalities, even the inner workings of our bodies.
For some, granting someone access to our phones – and therefore the inside track of our lives – is the ultimate symbol of trust. And millennials are leading this trend, by setting up their partner with fingerprint or facial recognition access to their mobiles, according to recent research.
The reasons that couples are increasingly blasé when it comes to sharing this information range from a simple case of convenience, to more profound and complex causes.
“My boyfriend has a fingerprint login to my phone,” says Johanna, 26. “I think it’s a convenience thing – there have been so many times when I’ve wanted him to get a number off my phone, or read a certain email to me, or take a photo. It’s just so much easier.”
However, there are limits to this: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t be happy about him seeing, but I’d still find it weird if he was trawling through my conversations,” she adds.
Relationship and technology expert Michelle Drouin agrees that individuals who allow access to everything from group chats to Facebook accounts are sending an important message to their partners, and to others: namely, that they have nothing to hide.
“Many couples that share fingerprint access do so out of convenience or a desire to be open and transparent,” she explains. “It’s also the modern day equivalent of giving someone the key to your house. It sends a certain message: you can enter my life at any time, and I’m not fearful of you finding me in a compromising position.”
With our devices containing ever more intimate information on us, however, sharing access can do more than simply signal the strength of trust in our relationships. Our phones are now a buzzing, glowing, microcosm of ourselves. Leaving the digital door ajar suggests that you are comfortable opening up every corner of your life, from the shopping lists saved in your notes section to that detailed conversation with your best friend about getting a bikini wax.
Although for most of us the worst case scenario might be our partners discovering some of the more questionable results that crop up in our Google search history, for others the issue is more insidious. For couples who deal with jealousy or control issues in their relationship, an unlockable device grants unprecedented access to photos, friendships, and – and for some this is simply too much.
“I’d feel deeply uncomfortable about letting my partner have access to my phone,” says Emma*, 26. “I’m not super private about my life and I’ll often show my partner funny texts I receive, or share photos from my nights out. But fingerprint access reminds me of previous experiences with being in a controlling, abusive relationship.
“I’ve had exes who have asked for things like my social media passwords and used them to try to muscle into every area of my life, demanding access to everything I did and said, whenever they wanted. So it’s not that I have anything in particular on my phone I want to hide, but more that I want the right to choose what anyone else gets access to, and when.”
Although some may be more comfortable in advocating openness in their digital lives, Emma’s experience raises tough questions about the precedent that putting everything on the cyber-table sets. Should we really be normalising sharing all of our data and the private world that many of us store within our devices with anyone else?
“I think I initially went along with it when my ex asked me for my passwords because he convinced me it was just how normal relationships worked,” Emma adds. “But it made me feel vulnerable and paranoid – I’d scan every message I received, however innocent, and delete anything I thought could arouse jealousy or anger.
“Did his insistence on having access to my phone and social media accounts end our relationship? I’m not sure… obviously now, when I look back on how controlling it was, I feel horrified. But at the time I was so convinced that this was normal, that it never occurred to me to break the cycle.”
As important as honesty is in a relationship, our right to privacy is just as essential, and this includes the choice of when and what to share. Although allowing access to a device that can contain deeply personal data may be right for many, making this mindset the new normal can enable dangerous behaviour. It authorises abusers to frame controlling actions as a new kind of intimacy, and suggests that a total lack of privacy is the marker of a strong couple — when in reality this is not a relationship model that suits everyone.
And as the trend of granting fingerprint logins becomes ever more popular, it is key to remember that you should never feel pressured to allocate access to your device.
“Whatever couples do, they should make these decisions together,” advises Drouin. “Online infidelity is rampant, but online privacy is also important.
“Couples need to weigh up these issues and discuss the pros and cons before they hand over the keys to their online life.”
*some names have been changed
Images: Getty, Unsplash