October 3, 2014 by

Spying via Smartphones: A Simple Guide to Staying Safe

In today’s smartphone-driven society, using spy apps designed to invade the victim’s privacy is becoming ever more prevalent. Whether it’s parents trying to make sure their kids are safe, a husband making sure his wife is faithful, an employer making sure her employees are working as they should, or the Chinese government spying on Hong Kong protesters, all of these are a breach of privacy and the legality of each should be discussed with a privacy lawyer. Here are some general guidelines (see disclaimer).

Mobile spying software is legal to use in the US for:

  • Parents: to monitor their children’s safety, or practically any other reason they deem necessary. The kids must, however, be under 18 years old.
  • Employers: to monitor their employees while at work, or while using the company phone for work calls. The employees must be made aware of this- this alone is usually enough to deter any misuse of the company phone.

However, it is not legal in the US to use for:

  • Spouse monitoring: It is illegal to spy on your spouse’s mobile phone. Whether she/he is cheating or stealing money from your wallet at night, it is against the law and can carry a jail term if taken to court. UNLESS you own the phone your spouse is using- in which case, it might be considered legal.
  • Any other use: These mobile spy apps cannot be used to spy on anyone else you know. There is no justification for it.

How to find out if your smartphone is being spied on?

There is not an easy way to find out for sure, however, there are a few signs one can look for:

  • High data usage/bill: Most of these apps are constantly sending data to the perpetrator, thus extra data charges may appear on your bill.
  • Unusual battery drain: Since these apps always run in the background, they consume a lot of battery power.
  • Shut down problems: Since they’re programmed to always be on, it’s not uncommon for some of these apps to cause problems when trying to shut down the phone.
  • USB debugging on (Android): If you go to developer settings (the exact path varies) and see that USB debugging is ON and you didn’t turn it on, it’s bad news. I’d recommend using factory reset.

Lastly, if you’re unsure or think you might be spied upon, hire professionals to do digital forensics on your phone.

Legal disclaimer: This article contains general information about legal matters.  The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. For advice on legal matters, talk to an attorney.

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About the author

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LIFARS is a digital forensics and cybersecurity intelligence firm based in New York City. LIFARS is ranked as one of the top Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigations companies in 2016 and as one of the top cybersecurity companies in the New York metropolitan area for 2015 on the Cybersecurity 500 – a directory of the hottest and most innovative companies to watch in the cybersecurity industry.

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