Hundreds of apps can empower stalkers to track their victims – station finder world j gastrointestinal oncol impact factor


Digital monitoring of a spouse or partner can constitute illegal stalking, wiretapping or hacking. But laws and law enforcement have struggled to keep up with technological changes, even though stalking is a top warning sign for attempted homicide in domestic violence cases.

“We misunderstand and minimize this abuse,” said Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “People think that if there’s not an immediate physical proximity to the victim, there might not be as much danger.”

But data breaches at two surveillance companies last year — revealing accounts of more than 100,000 users, according to the technology site Motherboard — gave some sense of the scale. The tracking app company mSpy told The New York Times that it sold subscriptions to more than 27,000 users in the United States in the first quarter of this year.

According to data published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of women and 11 percent of men in the United States at some point endure stalking or sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner that has significant effects. While comprehensive numbers aren’t available on domestic abuse cases involving digital stalking in the United States, a small survey published in Australia in 2016 found that 17 percent of victims were tracked via GPS, including through such apps.

In a Florida case involving abusive surveillance, a man named Luis Toledo installed an app called SMS Tracker on his wife’s phone in 2013 because he suspected she was having an affair. “He said he was able to see text messages and photos his wife was sending and receiving from others,” Sgt. A. J. Pagliari of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office recalled.

This January, Mr. Toledo was sentenced to three consecutive life terms after being convicted of killing his wife, Yessenia Suarez, and her two children. Sergeant Pagliari said Mr. Toledo told him he installed the app several days before her death. “With the use of the app, Toledo was able to confirm his suspicion,” the sergeant said.

Representatives for SMS Tracker, made by the Dallas-based Gizmoquip, did not respond to requests for comment about the app’s role in the case. A recent review on the Google Play store for SMS Tracker tells potential users: “I would recommend if you think your partner is cheating.” An Opening for Abuse

There is no federal law against location tracking, but such monitoring can violate state laws on stalking. Spying on communications can break statutes on wiretapping or computer crime. And knowingly selling illegal wiretapping tools is a federal crime.

“There are definitely app makers that are complicit, seeking out these customers and advertising this use,” said Periwinkle Doerfler, a doctoral student at New York University and an author of the study on apps, which will be presented in the coming days. “They’re a little bit under the radar about it, but they’re still doing it.”

The researchers, from N.Y.U., Cornell University and Cornell Tech, contacted customer support for nine companies with tracking services. The researchers claimed to be women who wanted to secretly track their husbands, and only one company, TeenSafe, refused to assist.

KidGuard, the app largely aimed at parents, also bought ads alongside Google results for searches like “catch cheating spouse app.” A spokesman for the business, based in Los Angeles, said in an email that the company worked with third-party marketers and customer service reps who had been “testing new strategies.” It deleted blog posts about tracking romantic partners and said it did not support that activity.

On YouTube, dozens of videos provide tutorials on using several of the apps to catch cheating lovers. The videos frequently link back to the app makers’ sites using a special code that ensures the promoter will get a cut of the sale — a type of deal known as affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing also appeared on multiple websites that discussed using surveillance apps to track romantic partners. One site,, had posts about spying on “loved ones” and linked to mSpy. The app company said that its terms of service prohibited illegal activity and that it would block the site from its affiliate program.

Apple makes it difficult for iPhone users to download apps from outside the company’s App Store, and has many restrictions on what apps in its store can do. After testing several programs available in the stores on both platforms, the researchers found that Apple’s strict rules resulted in more limited surveillance capabilities on those apps than those running Google’s software.

Many App Store apps offered location tracking for phones. But for more intrusive surveillance, spying companies had to work around Apple’s restrictions by using the victim’s name and password to get data. To combat misuse by predators, an Apple spokesman said, the company urges people to use a tool called two-factor authentication to help protect their accounts even if their passwords are stolen.

The researchers found two apps in the Google Play store that allowed the app icon to be hidden from victims and the camera to run without notifications, as well as a handful of others that tracked users’ locations without telling them, all apparent violations of Google’s rules.