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. She tells Davelle Lee her story.

Herworld (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - *Names have been changed

It started in­no­cently enough, with him of­fer­ing to set up her smart­phone.

W hat 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 gure 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 rst few months of our re­la­tion­ship were pretty smooth.


The trou­ble be­gan when I bought my very rst 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 ght.

We nally 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 ghts, 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?


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 oored.

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 specic – 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 ags 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.


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 denitely told you that I was out with my friends. Tell me how you knew I was here.”

He nally 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 condence, 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 ght 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 conded 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.


The tip­ping point came when Ed­die nally 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, mortied. How vin­dic­tive did a per­son have to be to re­sort to this kind of ma­li­cious­ness when he didn’t get his way? What horried 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 nally ended it with a text, wish­ing him well.


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 conden­tial.

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.




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