One down, far too many left to go.
On Wednesday the Federal Trade Commission announced it had banned SpyFone, the maker of a so-called stalkerware app, from the digital surveillance business. As their name suggests, stalkerware apps grant abusers the ability to secretly monitor the digital lives of anyone’s phone they can get their hands on.
“The company’s apps sold real-time access to their secret surveillance, allowing stalkers and domestic abusers to stealthily track the potential targets of their violence,” reads the FTC’s Sept. 1 announcement.
Notably, SpyFone (now doing business as Support King, LLC) and its CEO, Scott Zuckerman, neither admitted nor denied the FTC’s numerous allegations — allegations which even go beyond the already numerous horrors of stalkerware.
“SpyFone’s lack of basic security also exposed device owners to hackers, identity thieves, and other cyber threats,” writes the FTC.
It appears a lot of innocent device owners are wrapped up in this. A consent order agreement accompanying the FTC announcement points to SpyFone.com, a website which claims that it’s the “World’s Leading Spy Phone App” with “Millions Installed.” Clicking through to the linked Google Play store, which is still up as of the time of this writing, shows “1,000,000+” downloads.
While undoubtedly a scourge of the modern age, stalkerware itself is not a new problem. Eva Galperin, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of cybersecurity, spoke with Mashable back in 2019 about the tech’s wide reach.
“Like other forms of domestic abuse, the use of stalkerware on phones affects people from all walks of life,” she explained at the time. “I have been contacted by men being spied on by women, men being spied on by men, and women being spied on by women, but the majority of cases that I see are of women whose phones are being spied on by a partner or a former partner, who is usually a man.”
Interestingly, part of the FTC’s proposed settlement requires SpyFone to notify potential victims — displaying a warning message on their compromised devices:
Someone may have secretly monitored your phone.
The Federal Trade Commission has alleged that Support King sold illegal monitoring products, which may have been installed on this phone. The software has been disabled.
This phone may still not be secure. Photos, emails, texts, and location were collected from this phone.
For details, visit [hyperlink to FTC blog] or call 877-382-4357.
For help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800−799−7233 using a secure phone. If you’re in danger, call 911.
This is not the first time the FTC has moved against the maker of a stalkerware app — in 2019 it was the developer of MobileSpy, PhoneSheriff, and TeenShield — and it hopefully won’t be the last. The stalkerware industry is one predicated on abuse, and the sooner companies like SpyFone are forced to exit the world of digital surveillance the better.