I decided to examine both claims by planting three AirTags, three Tiles, and a GPS tracker on my husband and his belongings to see how precisely they revealed his movements and which ones he discovered.
Some states, including New York, where we live, have laws criminalizing this sort of thing. Not wanting to break the law, or my husband’s trust, I had asked him for permission.
It was not the first time I had subjected him to my brand of experimental reporting. I’ve been covering privacy for more than a decade, and have found that the best way to concretely explain the dystopian implications of new technologies is to immerse myself in them, guinea pig-style.
My husband has lived on Bitcoin with me, been spied on by our “smart home,” and watched me give up the tech giants. (He would not give them up himself, saying, “I have a job,” but he agreed to unplug our Amazon Echo.) He also happens to be a professional press freedom advocate, so I was fairly certain he’d be game.
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“You can do it,” he said. “But it’ll be boring. We’re in a pandemic. I never go anywhere.”
Our lives are certainly less exciting these days. We see practically no one but each other or my in-laws. On top of a pandemic, it’s winter here in the Northeast, so we’re home most of the time. But my husband does occasionally leave the house, and I wanted to track him when he did.
When an editor proposed sending a photographer to surreptitiously follow him in person one day — to show visually the movements I was tracking digitally — a small part of me worried I might discover something I didn’t want to know. A little privacy is good for any marriage.
‘Is it in my shoe?’
Thirty minutes after my husband and youngest departed for the hospital, I opened an app linked to the most precise tracker in my arsenal, the $30 LandAirSea device. To activate it costs extra, because it needs a cellular plan to relay where global positioning satellites have placed it. I chose the cheapest plan, $19.95 monthly, to get location updates every three minutes; the most expensive plan, for updates every three seconds, was $49.95.