Do you think an abusive partner or ex is monitoring you through your phone? They might be using stalking apps (spyware) that secretly track your devices. Here’s information about what stalking apps are, how to tell if they’re on your device, and what to do if they are.
What are stalking apps?
Stalking applications are apps or software that someone can download onto your phone to track or monitor you. They can share detailed information about your phone activities – like phone conversations, text and email messages, photos, and account passwords – without your knowledge. Some stalking apps also advertise that they can turn on a phone’s microphone and camera remotely so that the monitoring person can see and hear what’s happening around the phone, even when it’s not being used.
How can I tell if a stalking app is installed on my phone?
If an abuser has installed a stalking app on your phone, your phone will probably look the same. No new icon will be displayed, and most anti-virus software won’t detect it. But these clues may suggest that a stalking app could have been installed:
- The abuser has had physical access to your phone;
- The abuser knows a lot of very specific information about you, including your exact locations, the content of conversations you’ve had, what you’ve texted and to whom, and what you’ve searched for online;
- The phone’s battery drains faster, without any difference in your phone usage;
- There are unexplained data usage charges on your bill; or
- You have trouble turning off the phone.
What can I do if I think a stalking app is installed on my phone?
If there’s a stalking app on your phone, here are some steps to consider:
- Get help. Law enforcement and domestic violence advocates can help you if you believe a stalking app has been installed on your phone.
- Check to see if your phone has been “rooted” or “jailbroken.” Stalking apps aren’t sold through typical app stores. In addition, they usually can be installed only on a phone that has been “rooted” or “jailbroken,” which allows a person full control over the phone’s operating system. If your phone is rooted or jailbroken and you didn’t do it, a stalking app could be installed. “Root checker” apps can quickly tell you whether a phone has been rooted or jailbroken.
- Back up your phone. Before making any changes to your phone, consider backing it up, which could help to save any potential evidence of abusive behavior. Local law enforcement may be able to help you to preserve evidence. However, do not sync your backup to a new phone, to prevent the spyware from reinstalling.
- Reset your phone. The only way to effectively remove a stalking app from a phone is to reset it and re-install the manufacturer’s operating system.
Remember that taking any of these steps could tip-off your abuser – especially if you use your phone to research your options, make a call, or have a conversation near your phone. If you are concerned your phone might be monitored, consider leaving it behind when you are seeking help. Do what is best in your particular situation.
Want to learn more? Check out our technology tips for domestic violence and stalking victims and the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s technology safety tips. Additional help is available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you think you might be in danger right now, call 911.
About the Author
Jacqueline Connor is an attorney in the FTC’s Division of Privacy & Identity Protectio
This post originally appeared Sept. 26 in the FTC blog.