While it is illegal in the U.S. to install stockware on an adult’s phone without consent, marketing such applications is legal. Although many companies display disclaimers on their websites and state that their software is intended for legal purposes only, there are a handful of assumptions about installing spyware on the devices of unknown adults.
Last September, in its first such order, the Federal Trade Commission banned a company called Support King, operated by SpyFone, from the surveillance business for illegally harvesting and sharing people’s private information and failing to implement basic security measures. The FTC said it would “be aggressive about obtaining oversight restrictions when companies and their executives aggressively invade our privacy.”
While many stalkerware applications are sold as parental monitoring tools to monitor children, they offer the same capabilities as services that are more explicit for spying on spouses, says David Ruiz, senior privacy advocate for security group Malwarebytes. “There is a whole family of petitioners who say directly that they will quote, solve your problem of cheating spouse. That’s not just ridiculous – it’s dangerous. ”
Technology-enabled abuse is a growing problem. According to the Stacking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center, around 1.5 million Americans are chased by some form of technology each year, while the UK Domestic Violence charity Refuge reported a 97% increase in abuse cases between April 2020 and 2020 requiring expert tech support. May 2021.
The charity’s tech abuse team said it was working with “numerous” survivors whose abusers had installed stockware on their phones to intimidate, harass and manipulate them.
“It’s very disturbing to hear that these apps are being marketed directly to criminals,” says Emma Pickering, a tech abuse lead at Refuge. “Tech companies should act quickly to remove ads that enable criminals to read their partners’ messages or access tools to track locations without their knowledge or consent.
“We must recognize that cyberstocking is just as dangerous and dangerous behavior as chasing on the street.”