Tell me your secrets! Bare your soul. Reveal all there is to know about you.
How would you react to such an invitation?
Would you view it as a chance to share? Somebody showing an interest? An opportunity? A threat?
Perhaps you may be unmasked as a mild-mannered accountant by day, crime-fighting superhero by night. Or maybe the big reveal would be that you really are the most boring person on the planet.
Not willing to share? Then you must be hiding something! Creepy predilections. Unsavoury peccadillos. Cheating on your spouse? Evading taxes? Selling state secrets? Watching (gasp) reality television?
Tell me the login details to your work payroll system. Your internet banking passwords. Your PIN numbers.
How would you react now? Still willing to share?
Is your fear the violating of terms and conditions you signed up to when you joined, or that you will feel violated in turn? An embarrassment of riches revealed, or perhaps a more embarrassing absence of riches exposed. Living larger, or more modestly, than your earnings appear to allow.
Share your email password with me. Give me access to your social media. Your dating app profiles.
Does your current partner know you are still in touch with your high school sweetheart? Are your industry peers aware of your anonymous YouTube channel? What would your boss say if they knew about the content of your satirical newsletter?
Tell me your secrets!
At some point, our journey is over and our adventures come to an end. This outcome is certain, one of the few constants in life. The unknown is simply a question of timing and style.
Of course, by that point, we are beyond caring. Depending on our preferred comforting fairy story, our minds may be otherwise occupied. Burning in the fiery depths of eternal damnation. Fighting and feasting in Valhalla. Partying with 72 virgins in paradise. Reunited with long-departed loved ones. Or perhaps reincarnated as something reflecting our karmic account balance, the next Dalai Lama or a lowly dung beetle.
Shortly after our demise, another inevitability is that a flock of vultures will start circling our estate. Friends and family. Colleagues and charities. Creditors and the tax authorities.
Greed in their eyes. Grasping hands. Snouts in the trough. All seeking an unearned windfall.
A noble, or just naïve, executor steps up to assume the role of an Indiana Jones-like treasure hunter. Following cryptic clues and incomplete accounts to seek out long lost riches, in the face of overwhelming odds. All the while fending off demons and monsters. Protecting the spoils until they can be safely distributed to their rightful owners.
The role is gruelling. Relentless. Thankless. A nightmare journey through a bureaucratic maze that could only have been designed by an evil cartoon bad guy, with a wicked sense of humour, who was having a really bad day.
In real life, that treasure hunter role involves slightly fewer car chases and gun battles than the movies, though there will still be poison darts and boulders hurled in their general direction. Plenty of scope for bribery, backstabbing, and betrayal. Families are complicated.
Back in the olden days, executors combed through mountains of paperwork. Cheque stubs. Letters. Passbooks. Receipts. Statements. Making phone calls and personal pleas at bank branches. Throwing themselves upon the mercy and common sense of bank tellers and administrators.
Today the job has become infinitely harder, as we have traded our analogue existence for a digital paperless one. Each part of the puzzle locked away behind usernames, passwords, and multi-factor authentication.
Identity fraud and data protection rules throw up all manner of barriers and roadblocks to discovering the very existence of holdings, let alone their content and value.
Consider how you access a humble bank account.
Unlock your phone using facial recognition. Fingerprints. A secret code that you have probably never written down.
Open a banking app. Supply a login. A password. Likely an impossible to remember one, known only to a password vault, locked away behind yet another layer of authentication.
Supply a two-factor magic number. Delivered via SMS message, authenticator app, or hardware key.
Now multiply all of those hoops you just jumped through by the number of accounts you hold.
Our intrepid Indiana Jones may be adept at retrieving ancient artefacts armed with little more than a satchel, whip, ever-present Fedora hat, and their wits. But for modern-day artefacts, he’d be screwed without your phone and access to your email account where all the password reset messages get delivered.
Next, consider how much harder it would be to discover, track down, and access those more obscure stores of wealth you have scattered across the ether.
Store credit and gift card balances.
Peer-to-peer lending accounts.
Kickstarter campaign investments.
Unregulated crypto exchange accounts, and hardware wallets squirrelled away in safe deposit boxes.
Non-fungible tokens, digital assets of dubious value that few can explain, and fewer could track down.
Where would the executor look? Where would they even begin?
What trail of breadcrumbs have you left for those who follow in your footsteps?
How have you balanced out the trade-off between the risks of security vulnerabilities and identity theft today, versus providing access to your nearest and dearest in the event of your untimely death? Disablement? Or incapacity?
Tell me your secrets!
Expectation of privacy
How many of those same logins and passwords have you already shared with your partner? Your adult children? Those same people who will be the executor of your estate, or trusted with a lasting power of attorney later in life?
If not the account details themselves, how about information on where to find the secret decoder ring or skeleton key to all your financial affairs? Perhaps the location of an aptly named “death folder” is one of the clues left for Indiana Jones in your legal will.
You do have a death folder, don’t you?
Diligently keep it up to date every time you open a new account or reset a password?
You don’t? Oh dear! (Me either).
If you haven’t left a trail of breadcrumbs, ask yourself why not?
Is it a question of trust? A longing for privacy? Or just old fashioned laziness and apathy? Be honest.
Tell me your secrets!
At a dinner recently, a drunk colleague whipped out his phone and proudly showed off a tracking app.
It plotted on a map exactly where he, his long-suffering wife, and the individual members of his tribe of teenage children all were. In real-time. Dinner. Home. Football practice. Locations unexplained.
He boasted that his wife monitored his approach home from work, so she could have dinner on the table as he walked through the door each evening. The assembled crowd made appropriately impressed ooh and ahh noises. Marvelled at the wonders of modern technology and the selfless generosity of his “tradwife”, some obscure niche internet subculture I had not previously heard of.
I must confess that I found it all a little bit creepy.
Cast your mind back to all the mischief and misadventure you enjoyed back in high school.
How much of what you got up to then would you have been happy having your parents and siblings knowing about? Bunking off school. Hanging out with friends instead of doing homework. Pursuing a new love interest. Sneaking out at night. Getting drunk or stoned or laid or tattooed at deserted suburban playgrounds or random house parties. Far from the watchful eyes of responsible adults.
Those hard-won “learning by doing” experiences taught us more about independence, self-reliance, lateral thinking, and applied problem-solving than any number of theoretical parental lectures. Dealing with the arrests, car accidents, drug overdoses, teenage pregnancies, and lifelong buyer’s remorse from getting those tattoos.
A trial by fire introduction to the accountable adult world. One that equipped those participants who survived with the skills required to navigate life’s challenges.
How much of what you get up to today might similarly get you in trouble with your loved ones?
Perhaps mostly innocent things. A cheeky pint after work. Dawdling home via the scenic route. That sneaky commuting detour via the shopping centre, rather than heading straight home.
Perhaps less innocent things. Visiting a betting shop. A mistress. Or a toy boy. Choose your own adventure.
Would I want my family to track my every move? Would I want to know everything they got up to?
I wasn’t sure that I did.
Not because I have some dark secret to hide. It was more the principle of the thing that troubled me.
Tell me your secrets!
Under the radar
Apple’s latest billion-dollar consumer electronics product line is the AirTag. Coin sized tokens that can be attached to bikes, cars, keyrings, school bags, suitcases, or wallets. Allowing the owner to monitor in real-time the whereabouts of the item being tracked. And by extension, the person carrying it.
The use cases are many and varied. Find your lost luggage in an airport. Help police locate and possibly recover stolen items. Keep a watchful eye on the movements of loved ones, much to the delight of overprotective parents, insecure employers, and stalkers everywhere.
The fact that these items have sold so well reinforces the cliché that it is human nature to select convenience over privacy when offered the choice.
My lady wife was an early adopter of AirTags. Purchasing a handful shortly after their release.
One was attached to my younger son’s school bag. Another to my elder son’s keyring.
The explanation was innocent enough: “just in case”.
Helping to find lost keys or bags during the mad rush to get everyone out the door each weekday morning, when the absence of misplaced items is discovered with monotonous regularity.
There was just one problem. It wasn’t true.
By default, the AirTag emits a chirping sound when the owner polls for its location.
Which was problematic for my elder son. His high school has outlawed mobile phones. Should they be seen or heard, they are confiscated and the student receives an automatic after school detention.
To get the phone back, a parent is required to attend in person during school hours to apologise and beg for its return.
During that first day, the AirTag on his key ring chirped not once but on a half dozen different occasions. His teachers hulked. His phone was confiscated. His school day extended.
On the second day, he attempted to muffle the AirTag in his pencil case. Wrapped up in his coat. Shoved down the bottom of his bag. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Detention.
On the third day, he took the AirTag off and hid it in his sock drawer at home.
No detention at school this time, but the rocket he received upon returning home registered an 11 on the Richter Scale.
A settings change was found to halt the chirping. Alas, the spying was an issue not so easily resolved.
In the weeks that followed he was repeatedly busted doing the things that teenagers are supposed to do. Stopping off at a friend’s place on the way home. Going for a sneaky McDonalds. Seeking extra help on the sly from a teacher after school, when he didn’t understand a concept explained during class.
My son resented the invasion of his privacy. The constant intrusion, and lack of trust it represented.
He faced a tough choice. A grown-up choice.
Or learn to lie. Becoming a person with secrets. With something to hide.
Tell me your secrets
Where do you stand on sharing versus privacy?
Is it secretive to not share everything with your nearest and dearest?
Or is it reasonable to desire a semblance of privacy? Sharing some things, but not everything.
Does not sharing everything automatically mean you have something to hide?
Where do you draw the line? Does your spouse have access to all your logins and accounts?
Tell me your secrets!