An app dubbed “stalkerware” by the government has been banned from conducting any more surveillance following accusations that it secretly tracked people and potentially allowed that information to go into dangerous hands.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the company Support King, LLC. conducted business as Spyfone.com and the Spyfone app, which the FTC said sold real-time access to the secret data it collected through a hidden device hack.
“It was collecting text messages, photos and even one of the versions allowed the person to remotely turn on the mic of the camera of the phone and record audio and remotely take pictures on the phone,” said Jacqueline Connor, an attorney in FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. “This was all hidden.”
The FTC said the company gave customers instructions on how to hide the app from surveillance targets.
Connor said the app would have had to be physically installed, meaning the person had to have physical access to the phone at some point in order to use it.
The government warns that these apps could help domestic abusers and stalkers track their targets.
“Stalkers and abusers use mobile device monitoring software to obtain victims’ sensitive personal information without authorization and monitor surreptitiously victims’ physical movements and online activities,” the FTC complaint said. “Stalkers and abusers then use the information obtained via monitoring to perpetuate stalking and abusive behaviors.”
“It’s incredibly dangerous and that’s why the FTC feels it was very important to protect consumers,” said Connor.
This is the first time the FTC has imposed a ban on a company like this and the agency said it may not be the last time.
“The message this sends to companies is that if you’re a company that’s disregarding consumers’ privacy, if your product could be weaponized by abusers or stalkers, then you should expect the FTC will vigorously protect consumers using the law authority that we have,” said Connor.
The company has been ordered to delete all of the illegally gathered data and to notify affected people that the app had been secretly installed.
We contacted Support King, LLC. for comment but have not heard back.