If you have a suspicion that your smartphone is tracking you, you're not wrong. However, the kind of tracking that social media platforms and advertisers employ is less of a hostile act and more an attempt to get you to spend money. Real, malicious tracking lands squarely in the territory of spyware, authoritarian governments, and a little-known category of apps called "stalkerware."
You already have enough trouble dealing with Facebook following you across the web, but now imagine an actual person monitoring your every move -- both on and offline -- through a custom-made smartphone app. This is what stalkerware is, and despite the best efforts of platforms like the Google Play Store, more of these apps keep cropping up!
When a stalkerware app is installed on your device, it can be hard to know if it's even there. Here's what you need to know about the plague of stalking apps, and how you can free your device from any attempts to infringe on your freedom!
The rise of stalkerware
On the Google Play Store, there's a range of phone-monitoring "spy" apps that claim to exist for the sake of "helping you watch your children." This description, however, conceals a far more sinister purpose.
Once installed on a phone, these apps can be completely hidden and show no icon whatsoever. In real-time, they're able to remotely feed you photos, videos, text messages, and location from the device they're installed on -- all without the user knowing it's happening!
Cybersecurity researchers have dubbed these apps "stalkerware," after the programs' most common form of use. Reviews on many of these apps contained references to monitoring significant others instead of kids, with paranoid references to "cheating" and other forms of infidelity a common theme.
Antivirus company Avast claimed in a recent statement that they were able to identify seven stalkerware apps presently available on the Google Play Store. Combined, these apps had been downloaded over 130,000 times!
That's either a lot of unruly kids being tracked or a disturbingly large number of people stalking a loved one without their knowledge!
Since reporting the findings to Google, the company has removed all seven of the identified stalkerware apps. Whether there's more floating around on the Google Play Store right now remains unknown.
How can I tell if there's stalkerware installed on my phone? How do I get rid of it?
It's very unlikely that Google's actions will deter the developers of these programs. The genie is already out of the bottle, and the "child monitoring" excuse provides plausible deniability for their continued existence. Fighting back against these unethical programs, it seems, must fall on us ordinary users instead.
So how do you know if an app like this has been installed on your device? As it turns out, there aren't too many clear indicators. Many of these apps install additional software once downloaded, and advise the user to delete the original app so no icon or trace remains. This means that the app's functions can run entirely in the background, undetected.
But, if you have a spouse, friend, or family member who seems to know just a little too much about what you're doing, where you're going, and when you're doing things, that may be a sign that they're privy to your personal life through a stalkerware app.
Rather than confront them about it, however, your best course of action is to simply erase and restore your phone. By doing a factory installation of Android, you're removing any extra code that might compromise your privacy and replacing it with a clean version of the operating system.
Once you're finished, however, you will need to re-download your apps, photos, videos, and contacts back to your device -- so make sure you back up your important data before proceeding. Click or tap here to find out how to back up your Android device.
Alternatively, you can use a third-party to help you back up your data. For the best safety and performance, we highly recommend our sponsor IDrive. It's not only capable of backing up computers but Android devices as well! Best of all, it's all cloud-based, which makes it easier to download once your phone is reset.
Once your personal data is backed up, navigate to Settings, tap Backup & Reset, and then select Factory data reset. This will erase your phone and replace it with a fresh version of Android. For added security, it's recommended you update to the latest version of Android as well.
As tech gets more and more invasive, bad actors will naturally attempt to exploit the tools at their disposal. But if people keep privacy at the forefront of their thoughts, they'll be able to make smarter choices about the things they do with technology. Despite the doom-and-gloom talk from analysts, with safe data practices, the future doesn't have to be scary at all.
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