Break-ups can be funny – awful, complicated – things. And even more so in a world as constantly connected as the one we currently live in. At what point do you “break” the relationship on Facebook? Is it nasty to change your Netflix password so your ex can no longer use it? And if you’ve got household links on shopping sites – but are no longer a household – just how important is it to switch them off?
All this happened to me last year when I split with my partner. My Netflix he's still using (I think) and it turns out Facebook does have quite a sensitive break-up option, where you can unlink your accounts and restrict access to your news feed while still technically remaining 'friends' and not hitting either your ex or mutual contacts over the head with an unsubtle "Hey! We're not together any more!"
Our Amazon accounts, however, were linked as a household so I could share in his Prime subscription. When I moved out, I figured I’d wait until the subscription ran out – I’d paid for half of it, after all – then unlink our accounts and get my own. But one thing I hadn’t thought about was Alexa.
I have two Amazon Echos and an Echo Dot, which I mostly use for listening to music around the house and occasionally asking about the weather. Then, a few months ago, my ex bought Echoes for himself and for our son, who lives alternate weeks with us both. The first I knew of this was when I got a phone call from my son – via my Echo.
Now, I’ve never set up any type of calling on my Alexa app; I’m not a fan of phone calls at the best of times so it really wasn’t something that appealed to me. But suddenly my son was talking to me from his dad’s, excitedly telling me about the new technology over there.
Once he was gone, I looked up the Alexa app on my phone, to find the list of available devices now included “Harry’s Echo” and “Dad’s Echo”, which they hadn’t the day before. And look, there were the Player controls, and the History tab…
I suddenly realised I had the power to make music play in my ex’s new house – and vice versa. And for us both to look up each other’s searches.
And I know – I know – that Alexa only saves what you say after you’ve called her by name. But still. The idea that my ex and I had links to always-on microphones in each other’s homes made me fairly uncomfortable.
I wasn’t actually worried he was going to snoop on me
I should make it very clear at this point that I’m in the fortunate position that I completely trust my ex-partner. I wasn’t actually worried he was going to snoop on what I’d been listening to, and I had no intention of doing that to him. But there’s still something very strange – and boundary crossing – about the very idea that you’ve got a window into the world of someone you’re no longer in a relationship with.
At any rate, it didn't worry him – when I raised it his immediate reaction was "but of course we're not going to do that!" Which we weren't, but I still didn't feel comfortable seeing his devices in my phone, and knowing mine were on his.
My advice for if this happens to you and the break-up is at all antagonistic is that I'd definitely recommend unlinking things straight away, particularly if there are any mutual payment options or joint bank accounts in play.
But if things are more amicable – and particularly if you want them to stay that way – then a quick chat before suddenly revoking access to accounts or devices is probably a good idea.
In the end, I bit the bullet and removed myself from my ex's household on the Amazon website. I don’t have Prime any more – though it’s top of my list for next payday – but when I check the Alexa app on my phone, only my Echo speakers show up. And my son’s back to using FaceTime when he wants to chat.
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