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Researchers probe shady, dangerous stalkerware app industry

The stakerware industry — which often markets spyware apps for as tools for parents to monitor kids via smartphones — has been treated to a thorough investigation by researchers at Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto. 

The researchers from IT, security, legal and human rights disciplines, are calling for changes to be made by the stalkerware industry, legislators, antivirus vendors, and mobile operating system makers like Google and Apple. 

Citizen Lab published two reports today, titled “A predator in your pocket”, which offers a look at the stalkerware app industry, and “Installing fear”, which offers a legal analysis of using, developing, and selling stalkerware apps. The reports are long but one of its contributors, Cynthia Khoo, offered a concise summary in a thread on Twitter.   

The report focuses on “dual use” apps that can be used for legitimate purposes, such as monitoring employees or children, but are frequently used to covertly monitor partners. The researchers argue these vendors deserve greater scrutiny because of their products’ potential to be repurposed as stalkerware. 

“Dual-use spyware vendors and developers, even in the context of child and employee monitoring, thus require a higher standard of scrutiny be applied to them, relative to those who engage in commercial activities that do not involve collecting, using, or disclosing intimate personal information,” one report states.