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Is It OK That My Sister Secretly Records Our Dad for Laughs?

I can’t advise you on the diplomacy here, but your reference to the Golden Rule suggests that you might ask her to imagine how she’d feel about a friend who secretly recorded conversations with her, replaying them to whomever she pleased. In one way or another, you should let your sister know that what she’s doing isn’t OK. You might tell her too that if she doesn’t stop, you’ll have to consider letting your father know what’s up, so that he can decide if and how he wants to talk to her on the phone.

I hope he can be spared that. While I’m generally in favor of letting people know the truth about the people around them, I suspect that the value to him of learning what she has done won’t be worth the pain. If your sister plans to continue, however, the issue isn’t just about the past, which is unchangeable, but about the future, which isn’t. And it’s possible that the pain of this knowledge would be outweighed by the value of ending this humiliating abuse. But you’re best positioned to make that judgment, and your talk of his emotional dysregulation and anxiety suggests that he may not be able to respond appropriately.

Your description of your sister, in turn, suggests that she exhibits another version of emotional dysregulation. Yet this shouldn’t be a hall pass for bad behavior. If, as I hope, you convey your concerns to her and stand up for what you believe, will she respect you more? Or just unleash the wrath you fear? I won’t venture a guess. But unless that wrath extends to more than railing at you, you’ll recover soon enough, and with the reassurance that you weren’t complicit in an unsavory practice.

Finally, a few points about those digital voice assistants you mention. First, the tech giants who offer these services — like Google, Amazon and Apple — have told us that they’re recording us. Second, they have taken some measures to anonymize the material. And third, users have the option of taking protective measures: They can, say, clear Siri’s history in an iPhone’s device menu or adjust Alexa’s privacy settings so that audio recordings will be deleted after some interval or simply never retained. (“Alexa, delete everything I said today” works, too.) These services may not function as well in these conditions, but it’s up to us to decide what trade-offs we’re comfortable with. Your sister isn’t providing your father any such choices.

A little over 20 years ago, when I first graduated from college, I did volunteer work at a South American orphanage where I bonded with one 3-year-old child. I have several photos of him from my time there, as well as photos of his extended family, who came to visit at one point. After I returned home, a fellow volunteer let me know this child had been adopted by a family here in the States. Recently, I came across the name and town of the adoptive family in an old file. With some simple Googling, I found this child, now a young man, along with his mother and her work email. As a mother myself, I felt it would be respectful to reach out to her first. I emailed explaining who I was, how I knew her child and that I had some photos he might be interested in having. I never got a response. It’s possible that she didn’t get my email or that she doesn’t want her son to think back on his previous life. But now I’m left wondering what to do. Am I overstepping? Maura, Maplewood, N.J.

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