Phone monitoring apps designed to avoid detection by the owner of the phone don’t just invade your privacy — they make it possible for stalkers and domestic abusers to track the location of the person they are targeting in real-time.
Stalkerware apps can give an abuser secret access to their target’s location, phone conversations, text and email messages, and photos. Some can even take pictures, turn on the microphone to record calls, and send commands by text to make the phone vibrate or ring.
The FTC sued a stalkerware app company Support King, LLC, which operated as SpyFone.com, and its CEO Scott Zuckerman. SpyFone, the company’s app, allowed users to secretly track another person’s mobile device. The FTC says the company secretly harvested and shared data on people’s physical movements, phone use, and online activities through a hidden device hack. According to the FTC, SpyFone failed to ensure people were using the app for legitimate purposes and didn’t protect the information it collected, allowing stalkers or domestic abusers to stealthily track their potential targets and exposing device owners to hackers, identity thieves, and other cyber threats.
When sellers of so-called stalking apps don’t want the phone’s owner to discover the app, they do things to hide it. SpyFone, for example, gave users step-by-step instructions on how to disable notifications warning owners that their phones were being monitored. Once installed, the only trace of the app would appear in the phone’s settings — but it was called “System Service,” making it hard for owners to discover.
If you suspect that someone abusive is secretly monitoring your phone, your first instinct may be to uninstall the app. But that can tip off the abuser. Before you uninstall the app, talk with a domestic violence counselor to make a safety plan and discuss whether you should get help from law enforcement. You may also need to check if your phone was jailbroken. In some cases, it might be safest to get a new phone.
Learn more about the steps to consider if you think there’s a stalking app installed on your phone. And do what’s best in your particular situation.
Wondering if there's a stalking app on your phone? Here are some signs to look for.
For more information, check out the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s technology safety tips. For more help contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE.