Unfollow Me is a campaign from Broadly, highlighting the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse, and amplifying the voices of victims and survivors. In the UK, we have partnered with anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register. Follow all of Broadly's coverage here.
For this piece, Motherboard partnered with Broadly to highlight When Spies Come Home, our extensive investigative series about the powerful surveillance software ordinary people use to spy on their loved ones.
When you think of “stalkerware,” what comes to mind is probably a spy-movie hacker planting chips on shoes or placing tiny video cameras on flies that hover around their targets. In reality, however, the stalkerware industry is much more mundane, and dangerous, than film tropes depict—especially for women.
Today, stalkerware—also called “spyware,” “consumer surveillance software,” or “spouseware”—takes the form of applications on or alterations to a device that enable someone to remotely monitor its activity. An application called PhoneSheriff, for instance, allowed its users to read texts and view photos on, as well as access the GPS location of, the phone on which it’s secretly installed.
As reported by Motherboard last year, tens of thousands of people fall prey to software and apps like PhoneSheriff, which was discontinued in March, 2018. And Motherboard’s analysis of a large cache of hacked files from Retina-X (the former maker of PhoneSheriff) and another spyware maker, FlexiSPY, revealed that those who utilize their products are most often ordinary people—such as “lawyers, teachers, construction workers, parents, jealous lovers”—not members of law enforcement.
There are at least dozens of consumer-level apps like PhoneSheriff on the market, with names like Mobistealth and Family Orbit. The FlexiSPY app is one particularly popular example of software marketed toward those trying to “catch” spouses or keep tabs on people without their knowledge: As Motherboard’s Joseph Cox reported in 2017, over the years, FlexiSPY has added features to send fake text messages, steal application passwords, take pictures remotely using a phone's camera, track web history, spy on Facebook, iMessage, and WhatsApp chats, and monitor aspects of Tinder usage.https://www.ttspy.com/the-easiest-fastest-way-to-hack-into-someones-iphone.html