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How To Know If Someone's Using Your Phone To Watch You

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The proliferation of spyware apps is proof that technology can trump trust.
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It actually happens a lot.

Inexpensive spy apps are being marketed, sold, and installed on mobile devices at breakneck speed.

People are using apps like mSpyFlexiSPY, and Retina-X to track every online move of their children, significant others, and employees, and while the only legal purpose for spy apps is for parents to monitor a minor or employers to monitor company-provided phones, even those uses come with their own set of ethical questions.

Most alarmingly, these apps can be used by abusive exes stalking their partners. In 2014, NPR conducted a survey of more than 70 domestic violence shelters across the United States and found that 75 percent of them worked with victims whose abusive exes used spy apps, nicknamed "spouseware" to cyberstalk them.


RELATED: 5 Signs He Isn't Interested In You — He's Stalking You


Although most of these apps are illegal, that hasn't stopped people from using or selling them. In fact, The Daily Beast recently discovered that Google was unknowingly promoting illegal spouseware apps through its advertising platform.

Once the company was informed of these ads, it removed them but it still raises the issue of big advertisers being unaware that they're promoting an illegal product.

How People Spy On Your Cellphone Using These Apps

Installing spouseware (or similar spy apps) requires access to the phone, a few minutes to download and install the program, and the ability to change the security settings of the phone to allow it to work. Doing so without the permission of the phone’s owner is wiretapping fraud and hacking, both of which are illegal and can lead (and have led) to jail time.

The data these apps collect varies but it can include text messages, social media activity, GPS locations, call logs, and photos. The technology behind these apps is essentially malware, and it’s often similar — if not identical — to that used by governments across the world.

And it's not just individuals who are tempted to spy on others — even major brands are a little too curious about their competitors. A class-action lawsuit filed against Uber in April alleged that the ride-sharing company violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the Federal Wiretap Act by using spyware to track Lyft drivers.

The "Hell" program was used between 2014 and 2016 to track drivers at the rival company and to find out which Uber employees were splitting their time working for both companies.

Protecting yourself against spy apps

Spyware apps Retina-X and FlexiSpy reportedly have around 130,000 users, so these types of apps aren’t particularly rare, even if they’re unethical or downright illegal.

If you have a partner, an ex, or even a stranger who stalks you or seems to have an uncanny knowledge of your activities or whereabouts, it’s entirely possible that one or more of your devices has been infected with a variety of spyware.


RELATED: I Was Stalked By My Rapist — And Couldn't Legally Stop Him


Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

1. Restore your phone to factory settings.

One of the easiest ways to see whether your phone has been infected with spyware is to look for unusual apps buried deep within your folders. As of now, iPhones must be jailbroken to install spyware, so if a quick search through your phone turns up apps like Cydia — which distributes apps for jailbroken iPhones and iPads — you know something is up.

Fortunately, removing it is relatively simple — all you have to do is restore your phone to factory settings or update the operating software, and that should remove everything that’s not supposed to be there.

2. Get help from a security expert.

While resetting your phone to factory settings or updating your operating software are your easiest options, they may not solve your problem completely — especially if it’s a serious case. Plus, removing spyware can destroy evidence you need to take legal action against the person who installed it.

The only way to be sure you’re spyware-free is to get a security expert to use special tools to check your phone or get a forensic expert like a private investigator to analyze your devices and collect evidence from any spyware that might be installed.

While this isn’t the simplest option, it is the most effective if you know your phone has been infected.

3. Take proactive measures to prevent spying.

To protect your device, you need to restrict access to it and to any associated accounts. Spyware can sometimes be installed via text message or through access to a victim’s iCloud account. Even if a device or account is password protected, someone could gain access to it via a compromised email account.

If you fear someone in your life may try to install spyware on any of your devices, make sure your accounts are protected with a strong password and use two-factor authentication. You should also make sure all devices are locked whenever you are not with them.

Finally, when securing your devices, it pays to see where you might currently be logged in on your various iGadgets. You can also double-check where you’re logged in using your Google account. If something doesn’t look familiar, you could be compromised.

And if you suspect a partner or ex-partner is the culprit, contact an organization like Becky's Fund, which specializes in assisting victims of domestic abuse.

The proliferation of spyware apps is proof that technology can trump trust. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself and your data from prying eyes and privacy breaches.


RELATED: Me & My Stalker: How I Gently Extracted Myself From A Friendship Gone Bad


Danny Boice is the co-founder and CEO of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand. He is married to Trustify co-founder and president Jennifer Mellon. Together, they lead Trustify's charitable giving by providing pro bono investigative and protective services to vulnerable populations such as missing and exploited children, domestic violence survivors, those in the foster care and adoption system, aging Americans, and more.

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