super fun surveillance for the ordinary man

It’s bad enough that the government possesses incredible technologies to spy on us and that artists like Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent make videos promoting the surveillance of the female body. It seems, however, that mobile entertainment providers Jamba and Bob Mobile are not content to stick to their annoying cell phone animations (search Jamba on youtube and you’ll see what I mean), nor let surveillance remain in the hands of the rich and powerful, but have decided to package surveillance technology as “fun” cell phone applications. The applications, “Partner Tracker” and “Mobile Spy” respectively, have been getting a lot of ad time on MTV Germany recently. The “Partner Tracker” is marketed with the line “Verarsche deine Freunde!” (“Play a joke on your friends!”), but its “friendliness” is undermined by its title, which clearly implies a different relationship of tracker/trackee, and takes on sinister undertones. “Mobile Spy,” on the other hand, is advertised with the line “Gib Lügnern keine Chance!” (“Give liars no chance!”), which implies that it will help you to check if your friend or significant other is lying about their location.

However harmless these ads would have you believe they are, the practical implications of such applications are certainly disturbing. Every time I see one of these ads, I’m reminded of Anxious Black Woman’s post on “Ayo Technology.” In her comment, she writes that it’s “no accident, for example, that service providers working against domestic violence are creating awareness and survivors’ manuals for how to guard against hi-tech surveillance methods that batterers and stalkers now use to control women’s every move.” I can’t help but think how easy it would be for a would-be stalker/batterer/rapist to acquire the cell number of his target and use this sort of tracker to find her. I am especially dismayed that such technology is marketed to such a large, young audience in such a popular and accessible format.

If you read the fine print, of course, Jamba is quick to contend that “Diese Software dient lediglich zu Unterhaltungszwecken. Es findet keine echte Aufenthaltsortsbestimmung statt,” that is, “This software is only for the use of entertainment. No real location is determined.” This lovely disclaimer is remarkably similar to the one offered by MTV at the end of its surveillance dating show “Exposed,” which uses “lie detection software” to test the honesty of two candidates. And like the disclaimer for “Exposed,” this one is likewise rather ineffective in dispelling the claims of the product. Indeed, the promise of this technology to provide the ability for surveillance to MTV’s (young male) viewers is still there. The coupling of this promise in advertising content and the promotion of surveillance in programming content (like “Ayo Technology” or “Exposed”) may prove to be especially potent.



  1. A search on Google holds the information that the trackee has to confirm per text-message that the tracker is allowed to track. Still, the possibilities mentioned in above post are still floating around.

  2. I agree. While it’s reassuring to know that there are some checks involved (that the “trackee” has to confirm, etc.), the application can’t be entirely dismissed as harmless. The fact that these details are hard to find (in the fine print or not given at all) is suspicious by itself. More importantly, the danger lies in the promise that these applications give, and that exists whether or not the application fulfills it for the user.

    Plus, I could also imagine that the intended “trackee” might feel pressured to accept the request, especially if he/she is in a relationship with the would-be tracker.

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