Stalkerware – even the same sounds frightening. It’s the name given to phone apps designed to collect data from your phone and pass it on to someone else. That can include a record of your calls, texts, messages, and emails. It can show someone else your GPS location, let them see your photos, or allow access to your social media.
Apps like this can also be used to take photos, videos, and audio recording with your phone and to turn your phone on and off from someone else’s phone. All without your knowledge or consent. Scary stuff, right?
These apps are hard to detect because they can be installed without showing an icon for the app on your phone. Apps like this can often be used by abusers to keep tabs on their victims. What’s really frightening is that they’re available right there in the Google Play or Apple store for someone to install on your phone.
Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint with the Retina X company over three apps: MobileSpy, PhoneSheriff, and TeenShield.
Due to pressure from security companies like Malwarebytes and Avast, many of these apps have been pulled from app stores, but new ones could pop up at any time or be installed from a third-party store on your Android device. The folks at Malwarebytes say the detected over a hundred new types of stalkerware last year.
What are some signs of stalkerware?
Does it seem like someone is able to keep tabs on your activity or know things about your private communications that they shouldn’t?
Is your phone using a lot of battery power, a lot of data, or getting hot really fast? Stalkerware could be running in the background.
If you have an Android phone, consider installing a malware detection program like Malwarebytes, Avast, or Kaspersky. Check your app manager to see if there are any apps you don’t recognize there.
Consider factory resetting your phone to get a fresh start and remove any malicious apps. Just make sure you have your contacts, photos, and other important information backed up.
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Just a note of caution: if the stalkerware app is installed as a system app and not a user app (many would be), a factory reset on an Android device would not remove it. Factory resets only delete user data and cache: it does not affect the /system partition. If Malwarebytes or other program detects but cannot remove it, the user will likely require a tech service to wipe the phone completely and reflash the firmware (operating system).