Spouse-busting: Intimacy, adultery, and surveillance technology

Melissa Gregg


This paper explores emerging practices of intimacy, publicity and privacy evident in online and mobile media applications. It focuses on platforms that facilitate, obscure or reveal adulterous behavior, to understand the surveillance logic underpinning these products. Spouse-busting websites and their accompanying devices are part of a booming industry that renders marital disloyalty open to both amateur and professional surveillance. Promotional testimonies highlight the ease with which monitoring equipment can be deployed, drawing on authenticating 'user-generated' aesthetics to reinforce product credentials. The very need for adultery technologies is symptomatic of a period in which some individuals see few options for intimate support - few visions or practices of community - other than the fulfillment to be gained from a dependent partner. As Laura Kipnis argues, the modern relationship is one in which lovers 'must know everything there is to know about one another' (2003: 162). This accords with broader transformations in intimacy encouraging openness and communication between self-directed individuals. The paper offers an alternative reading to these dominant ideals. It suggests that adultery apps evidence a modest ethics of erasure that might work to decouple the pact between surveillance, transparency and security.


intimacy, surveillance, adultery, sex, online technology

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