You spy a handsome man in the bar. Is it worth giving out your number? How easy or hard would it be for your spouse to find out?
Experts don't exactly agree on what percentage of people in supposedly monogamous relationships end up cheating; estimates run the gamut from 11 to 50 percent. Many study and survey results seem to fall around the 20 to 25 percent mark, still a sobering range.
For those who don't have moral qualms about cheating, or whose qualms are short circuited when a tempting opportunity arises, technology has added lots of new practical reasons to remain above-board with your significant other and avoid cheating -- at least if you fear getting caught. In these days of instant digital communication and the information trail it leaves, there are more ways your infidelity can be discovered, even if you think you are carefully covering your tracks.
One issue is that just because you delete something from your computer or phone doesn't mean it's really gone. There are computer forensics companies that specialize in recovering data for suspicious spouses and other clients. Recovery tools, as well as tracking and monitoring software and hardware, are also easy to obtain these days. And, as ever, your significant other can hire a private investigator, and he or she has access to lots of newfangled tools with which to spy on you.
An industrious partner can even find incriminating information without professional help by looking in a few key places on your shared computer, your phone or any social media sites you or your friends frequent. Therewas always the danger of self-betrayal from lipstick on a collar to a hotel receipt in a pocket to simply acting guilty or suspicious. But the wondrous advancements of this digital age also give us new and creative ways to slip up.
But a percentage of people will actually cheat despite the breach in ethics or risk of discovery. Here are 10 ways these cheaters can be betrayed by technology, often the very technology that is aiding them in their indiscretions.
A lot of us practically live our lives on the Internet these days. You can use it for communication, entertainment, handling of finances and schedules, purchasing just about anything and a host of other purposes. It can aid you in anything you are doing, good or bad (including cheating). There are even sites that specifically cater to cheaters, like AshleyMadison.com, a dating site that allows you to hook up with willing affair participants.
But your forays onto the Web leave signs of what you have been doing for anyone with access to your computer to find. Before you go visiting dating sites, buying gifts or making hotel reservations on a computer in your house, know that your partner can easily sniff out sites you've been visiting. You might want to set your browser to not save your history if you plan to engage in any illicit activities.
Even if you delete your browser history, cookies may also be saved on your computer. These can reveal what sites you've visited and even allow someone else to log into your accounts if you've allowed sites to remember you. Other possible tell-tale signs of Internet activity are temporary files of downloaded Web content. Covering your tracks is never as simple as deleting your history, since a suspicious partner is likely to dig further.
Third parties can also exploit security loopholes to view your history and target ads at you, but that's probably last on your mind if you are engaging in an affair. Still, an odd collection of advertisements for things related to dating and relationships could potentially tip off a spouse, as well.
Automatic Login and Password Storage
Someone with physical access to your computer could use software to discover passwords to various services and log into your accounts. But they might not have to go to the trouble. Another way cheaters can unknowingly give away their activities is by letting the computer, software applications or various Web sites save their usernames and passwords so that they don't have to type in their login information. Or they might even have programs like instant messaging (IM), e-mail, or anything used regularly set to start up and log them in automatically anytime the computer is booted. The computer itself might even be set to automatically log in without a password (which is moot if you share a computer anyway).
Some things, such as some IM clients, will default to opening at startup if you do not change the settings during or after installation. Your computer, browsers or other software can even be set to save passwords for applications and Web sites for you. Many Web sites allow you to select "Remember Me" to save your information via cookies so that you don't have to rekey your information every time you visit them. And password management software is readily available to help you keep track of multiple logins or to log you into things with only a single master password, for those of us who just don't have the facility to remember a gazillion usernames and passwords.
These services can be convenient time-savers, but can also let others who have access to your computer easily log into your accounts to do things such as view financial transactions or read your e-mails and IMs. If you've been using your computer for illicit goings-on, they could make it easier for someone else to discover the tell-tale signs.
Keyloggers and Stalking Apps
The threat of malware is a real everyday concern, but the same sorts of programs that hackers can use to steal your personal information (for reasons of identity or monetary theft) can be used to trap a cheater. A keylogger can be installed on your computer to record all the typing you do so that someone else can check up on your online doings. They can either be of the software variety, or hardware devices that plug in via USB or another connection port. Some hardware keyloggers can even transmit the logged data via WiFi.
Various snooping apps can also be installed on your smartphone to track your activity or whereabouts. Such apps could have legitimate purposes like locating a stolen phone, or tracking your own children for reasons of safety or peace of mind. Of course, such methods can be used for less than angelic purposes, like stalking, spying or even marketing from third parties. Currently, someone with access to your phone can install apps specifically created to read your messages, track your movements and even activate your phone's microphone to allow them to listen to whatever you are doing.
As of December 2012, at least one bill was in the works in the U.S. to ban the creation of stalking apps and make it illegal for a cell company to share location information without user permission. A significant other installing such software on your phone may or may not be legal, depending upon who owns the phone and where the parties live. There is a lot of gray area when it comes to digitally spying on your spouse, both because of joint ownership and because laws usually lag behind advances in technology. But currently these software applications and hardware devices are easily obtainable.
Saved IM History Logs
You might know that you should delete incriminating e-mails, but it's not always easy to determine whether real permanent deletion has occurred. Still, if you delete an e-mail and empty your deleted e-mail folder, and your significant other doesn't have access to a computer forensics expert and hasn't installed a keylogger, it might effectively be gone. But if you are using a non-browser-based instant messaging client, such as the ICQ or AIM clients, or the host of multiple messaging service clients that are available, such as Trillian or Adium, the software might be storing log files of your personal exchanges on your computer unless you have specifically set it not to do so. Your partner could find and read these detailed transcripts of your conversations. And an industrious spouse could set the program to record history even if you've set it not to do so (again, beware of auto-logins).
These log files (along with e-mails and other private information) could also come up in searches done on desktop indexing applications, such as Google Desktop, which allow a user to search a computer's contents by typing in keywords. Support for Google Desktop has been discontinued, but it still exists on lots of people's home computers, and there are other applications that do the same things out there. And the right combination of sex and relationship related keywords could bring the cheater's activities to light.
GPS Trackers and Recording Devices
Tracking hardware is no longer only spy fare. There are somewhat affordable GPS tracking devices that can be placed on or in a vehicle. Some may require monthly fees, just like a normal GPS. They can come in handy for tracking a stolen car or other property, but they can also be used to track an errant partner, say one who has told you that he or she was working late. In these days of easily accessible spy equipment and Google Maps, it isn't that hard to catch someone in a locational lie. Plus, most smartphones these days have integrated GPS capabilities that can, if set up to do so, track your every move, as well.
There are also long-running voice-activated digital recording devices available for capturing incriminating audio. They can be used for more innocuous purposes -- taking audio notes or conducting interviews -- but like the GPS trackers, they have obvious snooping applications. And they, too, aren't just relegated to specialty shops. You can pick these things up at major retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, and hide them in a car or in other personal belongings that will travel with your partner.
Hidden cameras are also always a possibility. They can be stashed away in or disguised as common everyday items, like alarm clocks, or the nanny-cams that come hidden in teddy bears. But placement of these might be a little more difficult unless you know exactly where an assignation is taking place.
And there are, of course, private investigation agencies that will do all this surveillance for you, but they cost a pretty penny. With all the do-it-yourself devices available, not to mention the camera and recording capabilities of so many phones these days, it might just be best to assume your every move is being documented and act accordingly.
Sexting Apps Give Users a False Sense of Security
For those not in the know, apps like Snapchat and Poke allow you to send photos, captions and videos that self-delete after a set amount of time (usually only a few seconds). Tigertext is a similar service, but for text messages rather than images. These apps are reportedly being used widely by teens and others to do things like sext (the texting equivalent of phone sex), pass notes and even cheat on tests. But a cheating spouse may also be using them to send messages to a paramour on the sly under the false assumption that the evidence will disappear forever.
A suspecting partner can also buy monitoring software or hardware that can recover deleted pictures and other data from phones or SIM cards. Just like with other types of data, deleting doesn't necessarily mean a picture is unrecoverable. And the cheater is bound to leave his or her phone lying around at some point.
Mobile Device Call and Text Histories
Even if your cell phone is devoid of spyware, your phone can still betray your cheating ways. Like the browser history, most mobile phones keep a history of recent calls. If your spouse knows your password, or if you don't have the password protected, it only takes a moment to check the device for dialed numbers, and possibly names if you have your paramour's contact information stored. The same goes for text messages, which can be even more incriminating than a frequently called number, especially if you've engaged in sexting.
There is a Call and Text Eraser app (Cate) for Android that was designed for texting on the sly. It hides the app when you shake the phone, doesn't put an icon on the home screen, lets you hide numbers from your contact list and creates hidden call and text logs. But no app is foolproof. If someone else installed it on your phone, it could be used as a spying app to hide secret call logs on your phone.
There is even a cloud service called Uppidy that allows users to save their texts to the cloud, which, if you, your partner or, say, a company providing you with a phone, sign up for it or a similar service, could create even more chances for unintentional self-incrimination via a digital trail.
And even those who are crafty enough to password protect, delete history and use privacy apps can still be betrayed by the phone bill itself, which usually lists the phone number, date, time and duration of every call you've made each month, and may contain similar information about texts.
Your phone company may even keep copies of texts you've sent, at least for a little while. They could be kept for hours, days or months, depending upon the situation. Most companies are deleting them faster and faster as their server space fills up. And getting copies, even of your own texts, currently requires a court order. But this is another indicator that anything you send may not be as temporary as you think.
Auto-Notification E-mails and Account Statements
This is akin to the pre-digital cheating discovery methods of finding a receipt in a pocket or noticing revealing purchases on bank or credit card statements mailed to your house. Even if you opt not to receive paper bills or statements, your spouse can receive or run across statements via e-mailed notifications, and may be able to peruse online statements if you share accounts, or, as mentioned previously, allow auto-login information to be saved on your computer.
Most companies e-mail statement notifications out to customers who have allowed it, and they often enough prompt you to switch from paper to electronic notifications for environmental and cost saving reasons. A cheating partner might opt for these, thinking they are safer than the physical evidence of paper. And truly, most e-mails of this nature don't contain too much itemized information, but they can be the breadcrumbs that lead to more detailed online statements.
If you have a hidden account or two, say for an additional mobile line or an extra credit card or bank account opened just for dalliances, there will still likely be a digital trail that leads to and from you via your computer or phone. So you can't assume an extra phone or gifts or clandestine hotel stays will remain secret forever. In the case of the phone, a prepaid or disposable phone might solve the statement issue, but the very existence of a second phone might serve as a clue to your significant other.
Social Media Might Not Be as Private as You Think
A large percentage of the population uses social media sites such as Facebook as a place for communication and sharing (often oversharing) the details of their personal lives. Facebook and other such sites gather an incredible amount of information about you, and their policies change from time to time. Knowing what settings you need to check to keep things as private as possible can be complicated. We may think we have the privacy settings figured out and know who is viewing our posts and pictures, but one policy update or added feature and suddenly activity you meant to be private could be public, or more public than you had hoped. You certainly can't count on anything you post on your wall or anyone else's to remain just between you and a handful of people.
Even if you are on top of all the settings, your friends and even your apps can share information about you that might unintentionally incriminate you. Services like Facebook Places and apps like FourSquare and Google Latitude can give away your physical comings and goings. Friends might check you into places, tag photos of you, or make offhand comments online that could expose your lies. So even more likely than someone purposefully recording your every word or move is accidental betrayal by social media.
There was a recent, albeit innocuous, incident with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister Randi, where she posted a photo for friends only, but because of the way Facebook photo tagging works, a friend of another sibling saw and shared the image via Twitter. While the photo was a relatively benign image of the family standing in a kitchen sending smartphone messages to each other, Randi expressed her objection to the unauthorized share and the Twitter post was removed. But the image lives on via various articles. This had nothing to do with cheating, but it just goes to show you that no one is immune to accidental public sharing. Anything you or your friends do or say or post on a social media site could easily make its way beyond its intended audience, say to your spouse, who thought you were at work Tuesday night when you were really chugging a beer with your fling at a party.
A person might make the mistake of failing to protect against many of the issues from the previous pages, or of leaving information lying in plain sight for a loved one to find. Haven't you ever sent an IM, text or e-mail to the wrong person, or unintentionally posted something to a wider audience than you intended? These errors are common, sometimes thanks to auto-complete or our increasingly quick digital communication reflexes that cause us to hit send before we realize we've done something wrong. Former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner accidentally posted a picture of his underwear-clad crotch to his Twitter page in a sexting snafu, ultimately bringing to light several online relationships and leading to his resignation from Congress.
But in an affair situation, you're also trusting another party not to make any mistakes that might give you away. Even if you're a security buff who is very careful to cover your trail, who is to say your partner in crime is doing the same? Just ask former U.S. general and director of the CIA David Petraeus, whose jealous mistress sent harassing messages to a suspected rival, which led to an FBI investigation that brought to light their relationship, as well as a possibly inappropriate relationship between the potential rival and another high-ranking general. The e-mails were sent anonymously, but were apparently not anonymous enough, since the investigation led right to the mistress. The scandal resulted in General Petraeus's resignation.
Most uncovered dalliances will not result in national publicity or resignation from a high-level government post, but they will cause the pain and suffering of everyone involved. And seriously, just think for a moment about the fact that the head of the CIA couldn't keep an affair hidden. Pretty much everyone is bound to slip up somewhere down the line. And in this day and age, it's likely to be a technological slip-up.
The most super plugged-in know how difficult it is to break free of the biggest tech companies. HowStuffWorks looks at how hard it is and why.
One bad thing about writing this article is that it made me look into a seedy side of life I often ignore. Who knew there were so many sites and apps that cater to people trying to hide things from their significant others? Perhaps I should have suspected. I have watched "Cheaters," as well as a lot of TV shows and movies where people hired private investigators to look into their spouse's indiscretions. And it's not like I've never had an impure thought. But I am a bit of a goody two-shoes. I think I'll choose to ignore all the new mechanisms to aid in betrayal for a while longer for sanity's sake. Another bad thing is that just researching it has probably left a pretty suspicious browser trail on my computer. I'll have to have a discussion beginning "Oh, by the way, honey ... " with my partner in the near future.
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