When her boyfriend oﬀered to help set up her new smartphone, Bernice* thought he was just being nice. Only much later did she discover his hidden agenda.
What do you do when you suspect your boyfriend is reading all your text messages, scrolling through your photo gallery, and tracking your location without your consent? And how do you prove it? For more than a year, I struggled to figure out the answer.
Eddie* looked like the average nerd, the kind of guy I wouldn’t normally give a second look. He was geeky and loved computers. We met at university close to a decade ago. From the get-go, he made it clear he was interested in me. He proved to be a sociable and easy-going guy, and we hit it oﬀ. At the time, I had just got out of a really bad relationship and was feeling very insecure, so his advances were a soothing balm to my wounds. In less than a month, we were dating exclusively.
Because I was still recovering from my past relationship, I held back from investing too much in this new one. Instead of spending all my time with Eddie – as I might have done with previous boyfriends – I paid more attention to my friends and family. I saw Eddie about two or three times a week. He didn’t seem to mind this arrangement, and he had lots of friends of his own, so things in the first few months of our relationship were pretty smooth.
HE STARTED TURNING UP WHEREVER I WAS
The trouble began when I bought my very first iPhone. I’d never used a smartphone before that, and Eddie, being something of an IT expert, oﬀered to help me set it up. Unquestioningly, I surrendered the phone to him, happy to let him do all the heavy lifting. Within minutes, my new phone was up and running.
The wonders of constant connectivity meant I could upload photos on social media, check my e-mail and send texts on Whatsapp without worrying about my phone bill soaring. Whatsapp also became a convenient way for me to communicate with Eddie. Unfortunately, it also meant that whatever arguments we had migrated onto the smartphone screen. Eddie hated this. He always wanted to talk things out face-to-face, while I believed in having some breathing room during a heated argument. Whenever we argued through text messages, he would always demand we meet up to resolve it.
Once, I was out with friends when Eddie and I began quarrelling over something silly. He kept insisting that we meet to sort things out, but I knew the situation was emotionally charged, and he would not be able to stay calm or rational. Frustrated that he was ruining my evening, I texted back: “Why don’t we just talk about this tomorrow?”
I put my phone aside and went back to talking to my friends. A short while later, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Eddie. “Come out and talk”, it read. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Eddie hovering some distance away, staring straight at me. I was stunned. My friends were oblivious to his presence, but I was worried he would approach us and make a scene if I didn’t go over. So I quietly excused myself and went to him.
Before I could say anything, he launched into a tirade about how we needed to resolve our issues. “Wait, how did you know I was here?” I interjected, still confused and upset by his unexpected appearance. My question seemed to throw Eddie oﬀ for a second, but he recovered quickly and said matter-of-factly: “You told me just now.” Had I? I was pretty sure I hadn’t. But before I could question him further, Eddie dragged me right back into our fight.
We finally settled our diﬀerences, but on the way home, my mind kept returning to what Eddie said. I was certain I hadn’t told him where I was going with my friends. The thought crossed my mind that he could have been following me, and it made me uncomfortable.
I tried to brush it oﬀ, but the same thing happened a few weeks later, following another argument. Once again, he showed up at the place I was at, and claimed that I was the one who had told him where I’d be. This occurred several times.
I felt increasingly suﬀocated, not just because he disregarded my wishes for time-outs between fights, but also because of a nagging suspicion that he might somehow be snooping on me. However, I had no way to prove this was happening.
I tried to convince myself that I was overreacting. After all, Eddie was never overtly controlling, and neither did he behave in an aggressive manner. All couples have their issues, I told myself, so what did I have to complain about?
HE KNEW THINGS HE WASN’T SUPPOSED TO KNOW
But things continued to unsettle me. Once, I discovered an adorable toy online and shared the link with one of my friends. I gushed in a text message that I planned to get it for myself. In what seemed like an unbelievable coincidence, Eddie showed up at our next date with the toy. I was completely floored.
When he saw my baﬄed face as he handed the toy to me, he declared proudly: “I can read your mind. I know what you like.”
Had I been more naive, I might have been swept oﬀ my feet. Instead, I was thoroughly creeped out. There was no way he could have bought something so specific – not to mention, completely random – that I’d never brought up to him before.
I knew my friend would not have told Eddie I planned to buy the toy, as she was not close to him. There just wasn’t a plausible explanation. But I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I brushed the matter aside.
More red flags began to show up. He would reference things in conversation that I never told him about, such as plans that I had made with my friends. When I arranged to meet my ex-boyfriend, whom I was still friends with, he would quiz me about it even before I had a chance to let him know.
It bothered me that Eddie seemed to know so much, so I started to become more detached. I did not commit to plans, and saw him less often. But all that seemed to do was to make him more intrusive. More than once, he showed up at my doorstep without warning. It puzzled me that he always knew when I was at home. By this time, I was certain that he somehow had access to information he wasn’t supposed to have.
A year into our relationship, I decided it was time to expose him.
HE ACTED LIKE IT WASN’T A BIG DEAL
I came up with a plan to lie to Eddie about my whereabouts and see if he was able to track me down.
The next time we argued over Whatsapp, I told Eddie that we should take a break and talk when we were both in a better frame of mind. I casually slipped in a mention that I was out with my friends, anyway, and wanted to avoid any drama. In reality, I was lounging at home, gearing up for a confrontation.
Sure enough, Eddie came knocking at my front door.
The minute I opened the door, I began my interrogation. “How did you know I was home?” I snapped.
Eddie was blindsided. It was clear he hadn’t been expecting this. As he fumbled for an excuse, I let rip. “I definitely told you that I was out with my friends. Tell me how you knew I was here.”
He finally cracked. “I… I synced your iPhone to my iCloud account,” he stammered. “You didn’t have one, so I used mine.”
At that time, I barely understood how cloud computing worked. I didn’t know what it meant to synchronise all my data to his account. More questions revealed that by syncing my phone to his iCloud, Eddie had access to my Facebook and other social media accounts, my camera roll, my location information and my e-mail. His audacity led me to believe that he must also have scrolled through my Whatsapp messages at times when I left my phone unattended, and forwarded them to himself.
I was bewildered by his admission. I thought about the things my friends and I had shared in confidence, like photos of them clad in bikinis while on vacation, and the intimate conversations we’d had. I’d never felt so violated. “This is a huge invasion of my privacy!” I cried.
“You’re overreacting,” Eddie shot back. He claimed that most couples know everything about one another and I was simply being too cagey. A heated fight ensued, with Eddie insisting that he had done nothing wrong. I wondered if he was right. Perhaps this was how a modern relationship functioned, I told myself.
I tried to rationalise Eddie’s actions. I made excuses for him. Maybe he just didn’t realise how serious it was to take my personal information without consent. When I confided in my close friends, they all agreed that his behaviour was unacceptable. Despite my friends backing me up, and the unease I felt, I still told myself that I didn’t have a real reason to break up with him if he didn’t have ill intentions.
HE REVEALED HIS SINISTER SIDE
The tipping point came when Eddie finally showed his true colours. He wanted to buy something online but was having problems with the seller. Eventually, he sent the seller a strongly-worded e-mail outlining his displeasure.
Whereas Eddie was generally nice to friends and acquaintances, he could be extremely rude to strangers – particularly to service staﬀ. So it was no surprise that his letter of complaint was not well received. Rather than the apology he expected, he received a curt reply from the seller. This incensed him.
“I am going to ruin this guy,” he boomed, tapping furiously at his keyboard. With gusto, he showed me how he could dig up data about the seller, such as his IP address and company information, and use it to publicly shame the man.
“Don’t be crazy! That’s a terrible thing to do!” I exclaimed, mortified. How vindictive did a person have to be to resort to this kind of maliciousness when he didn’t get his way? What horrified me even more was the possibility that one day, he could turn around and do the exact same thing with the private chats and photographs he had of me.
I was deeply disturbed by the incident and knew I needed to end things with Eddie. I guess it was no longer hard for me to do this because I was already put oﬀ by his crazy behaviour. Once, I told him we should break up, and he got overly emotional about it even though all it did was drive me further away. So I did a slow fade – I stopped responding to his texts and kept my distance. After several weeks, I successfully extricated myself from his life. I finally ended it with a text, wishing him well.
HE LEFT ME FEARFUL
In the year after our break-up, I remained extremely paranoid. I didn’t know which applications on my phone Eddie still could hack into and what he could use against me. Whenever I texted my friends, I would remind them not to say anything confidential.
And I wasn’t worried without reason. Eddie started showing up at the same events I attended. Even at a marathon with thousands of participants, he inexplicably managed to plant himself within metres of me.
One of my friends discovered his blog, on which he would write about how happy he was to catch a glimpse of me, how he sometimes waited at the void deck of my block, or still thought of me. This made me more anxious. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, half-expecting that he would be lurking about.
Buying a new phone was what helped me get over what Eddie had done. I decided I wasn’t going to live in fear or take any chances. Once I got a new phone, I performed a digital purge, changing all my passwords, deleting my Instagram account and creating new, private social media accounts. Only then did I feel Eddie was gone for good.
My friends still bring up Eddie occasionally and tease me about the crazy things he did all those years ago. Thankfully, I’ve not had any run-ins with him and am now in a healthy relationship with someone else.
Recently, I decided to make my Instagram account public. And guess who watched every single one of my Instagram stories within the day itself? I guess some people don’t change.
*Names have been changed