This Spyware Steals Your Data On Smartphone, Says FTC

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Someone may have been stealing your data and monitors your physical and online activity without you knowing. It is right on your device, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said.

The agency has just settled its first case against these so-called “stalking apps”, a spyware that monitors another person’s smartphone. In a decision released on October 22, the commission temporarily barred Retina-X Studios from selling apps that monitor consumers’ mobile devices. These apps are MobileSpy, PhoneSheriff, and TeenShield.

Potentially spyware infected smartphone
Photo by Prykhodov from Dreamstime

FTC reported the mobile app developer sells several software that tracks devices in which they were installed even without the permission of the user. These apps are marketed for parents to keep track of children or for workplaces to monitor employees.

According to Andrew Smith, a director at FTC, the apps covertly run on the background for illegal and dangerous uses. Once the purchaser has installed the app on mobile phones, they can remove the app icon, so the owners wouldn’t know they are being tracked.

The installation of apps also requires purchasers to bypass security protections of mobile devices. As a result, it would be able to collect sensitive information such as messages, photos, browser history, and GPS locations.

Retina-X Violations

FTC said that Retina-X has violated its prohibition against unfair and deceptive practices and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Under the rule, operators should secure the information they collect from children under 13. They should also give parents the ability to control what information the apps can collect from their children online.

The agency also charged Retina-X for failing to implement reasonable information security policies and procedures. In was found out that between February 2017 and 2018, a hacker successfully penetrated the company’s cloud storage. The hacker accessed data collected through the PhoneSheriff and TeenShield apps.

The Settlement

The FTC settlement requires Retina-X to ensure its apps are used only for legitimate purposes. It also orders the company to destroy all data already collected from their monitoring services.

Moving forward, Retina-X must also require purchasers to provide written consent from mobile phone owners to install the app. Also, they must include an icon with the name of the app on the mobile device. This way, smartphone owners will know if they are being monitored.

How to Detect Spyware?

FTC provides helpful tips to know if someone has installed a stalking app on your smartphone. Indications of phone hacking include battery draining faster without any changes in phone usage; unexplained data usage charges; and trouble turning off the phone.

Since stalking apps and spyware are not available on either GooglePlay and App Store, it would need jailbreaking for installation. If your phone is jailbroken and you didn’t do it, your data is at risk. Use root checker apps to tell if someone has rooted your phone and is control over your operating system.

If you think that there is indeed a stalking app on your phone, then it is better to get help. It would also be best to replace your device with a new one and avoid logging into an account on which the abuser has access to.

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