Parental Controls or Sanctioned Stalking?
Researchers at Avast have recently exposed seven apps that lets customers track a phone's location, view call history, messages and accumulate contact data on Google Play.
They there are many apps that have just been exposed on Google play. Some of the apps are listed below:
- Employee Work Spy
- Spy Kids Tracker
- Operation Safe Escape
A US based security group that works with domestic violence victims, called out three other apps: Spy, TheTruthSpy and FlexiSpy. The FlexiSpy, in particular claims the ability to “spy” on texts, including deleted messages. FlexiSpy also claims to be undetectable, marketing itself as a way to monitor spouses. An affordable answer to hiring a private detective, albeit largely unusable in court.
How are they getting away with it?
These app developers normally describe their products as “parental control” or “employee monitoring” tools to install on a target phone.
The intrusiveness is much more personal than standard hacking activity, as the app user will have to have personal contact with the victim. The app users (partner - abusers) need access to the phone at one stage, where they can add and then hide the app’s icon on the phone. They can then view the contents remotely and monitor activity from a distant dashboard.
Kaspersky Labs commented that in 2018 they removed 58,000 instances of stalkerware for clients with their antivirus apps. They produced an anti-stalkerware product this past April which by July had already detected malicious apps on over 7000 phones.
So why the lack of outrage?
There are multiple reasons why powerful tracking software is being overlooked.
One… Foremost perpetrators and victims are usually close on a personal level.
Rather than large scale attacks that effects millions these are individual attacks on our privacy. Then there is the obvious fact that apps such of these can be used for both good and bad. Parents using the app to monitors children’s internet access and whereabouts is hardly the same as a violent ex-partner stalking and violating the privacy of another adult. This leaves the apps in a somewhat neutral space.
Another reason could be that serious victims of this type of privacy invasion have a lot of other issues to deal with, such as psychotic ex partners. This powerful tracking software however is starting to also affect multiple employees, so the tables may turn.
Avast security researcher, Nikolaos Chrysaidos, commented that apart from being highly unethical, these apps are promoting “criminal behavior, and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims." Avast is looking forward to collaborating with Google to have these apps removed.