For around $50, a jealous wife or husband can download software that can continuously track the whereabouts of a spouse better than any private detective. It is frighteningly easy and effective in an age when nearly everyone carries a cellphone that can record every moment of a person’s physical movements. But it soon might be illegal.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee was expected Thursday to approve legislation that would close a legal loophole that allows so-called cyberstalking apps to operate secretly on a cellphone and transmit the user’s location information without a person’s knowledge.
The bill would update laws passed years before wireless technology revolutionized communications. Telephone companies currently are barred from disclosing to businesses the locations of people when they make a traditional phone call. But there’s no such prohibition when communicating over the Internet. If a mobile device sends an email, links to a website or launches an app, the precise location of the phone can be passed to advertisers, marketers and others without the user’s permission.
The ambiguity has created a niche for companies like Retina Software, which makes ePhoneTracker and describes it as “stealth phone spy software.”
“Suspect your spouse is cheating?” the company’s website says. “Don’t break the bank by hiring a private investigator.”
An emailed statement from Retina Software said the program is for the lawful monitoring of a cellphone that the purchaser of the software owns and has a right to monitor. If there is evidence the customer doesn’t own the phone, the account is closed, the company said. The program is not intended or marketed for malicious purposes, the statement said.
But supporters of his bill said there is no way to ensure the rules are followed. These programs can be installed in moments, perhaps while the cellphone’s actual owner is sleeping or in the shower. The apps operate invisibly to the cellphone’s user. They can silently record text messages, call logs, physical locations and visits to websites. All the information is relayed to an email address chosen by the installer.
Even if people do discover the software is installed on their phones, they often don’t know what to do about it, said Rick Mislan, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who specializes in mobile security and forensics. “Law enforcement usually won’t help them because they’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he said.
Victim’s advocacy groups said the bill is a common-sense step to curb stalking and domestic violence by weakening a tool that gives one person power over another.
“It’s really, really troubling that an industry would see an opportunity to make money off of strengthening someone’s opportunity to control and threaten another individual,” said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
US Senate Bill Targets Cyberstalking Software | DFI News.