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FTC bans SpyFone and orders company to quit surveillance app business

Complaints of stalkerware force action

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has banned a company from making software known as stalkerware. The software secretly tracks a phone user’s location and activities.

According to an FTC announcement, the company in question, Support King LLC, the makers of SpyFone, is banned from the surveillance business, as is its CEO Scott Zuckerman. The software secretly harvested and shared data on people’s physical movements, phone use, and online activities through a hidden device hack. 

The company’s apps sold real-time access to their secret surveillance, allowing stalkers and domestic abusers to track the potential targets. The FTC said SpyFone’s lack of security also exposed device owners to hackers, identity thieves, and other cyber threats.

In a complaint, the FTC alleged that Support King, LLC, which did business as SpyFone.com, and its CEO sold stalkerware apps that allowed purchasers to surreptitiously monitor photos, text messages, web histories, GPS locations, and other personal information from the phone the app was installed on without the owner’s knowledge.  

As well as banning Support King and Zuckerman from offering, promoting, selling, or advertising any surveillance app, service, or business, the proposed settlement requires them to delete any information illegally collected from their stalkerware apps. It also orders them to notify owners of devices on which SpyFone’s apps were installed that their devices might have been monitored and the devices might not be secure.

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Samuel Levine, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said SpyFone’s name was a “brazen brand name for a surveillance business that helped stalkers steal private information.”

“The stalkerware was hidden from device owners but was fully exposed to hackers who exploited the company’s slipshod security,” he said.

“This case is an important reminder that surveillance-based businesses pose a significant threat to our safety and security. We will be aggressive about seeking surveillance bans when companies and their executives egregiously invade our privacy.”

The FTC said this was the second case against stalkerware apps and the first where the FTC obtained a ban. 

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra called the complaint, which passed 5-0, “a significant change from the agency’s past approach.”

“In addition to the surveillance ban, affected individuals will receive notifications that someone may have been surreptitiously monitoring their mobile device, as well as information to seek help if they may be in danger.3 The Commission welcomes public comment on these provisions,” he added.

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