App providers routinely snoop on our phoning habits. Now, the same tech lets us spy on each other.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, August 22 2016: All of us have downloaded so-called free apps for our phones in big or small measure. We pay a price, though not in cold cash: our privacy. Before you can use the app, you have to agree for the provider to read your preferences, your phone settings, your browsing habits, your address book... they are getting bolder, more blatant, with every passing day. Click that 'Yes' button and a little morsel of code has been sent into your handset, to act as resident Snoop Dog monitoring everything you do on the phone. This is spyware -- legalized. They are able to do it because there are no laws to protect your privacy in Cyberia -- once you open the doors with an unknowing 'yes'.
Many of these snoop tools have now taken on a life of their own -- as free software that allows you to pry into the browsing, mailing and texting habits of other phone owners. All you need to do is access the target handset and quickly install the spy in a hidden folder. Do a random search for spy software in Android's Google Play or Apple's Appstore and you will have dozens of apps popping up, with names like Secret Recorder, Mobile Monitoring, Phone Data Tracker, Mobile Spy etc.
A lively area seems to be, young people tracking each other-- or more commonly, spouses spying on each other... indeed there's an app called Cheating Spouse. With all these apps you can track the target's physical location, thanks to GPS; monitor and download their phone calling history; read the first 30-50 characters of every SMS or email they send or receive. Installing the app on your partner's phone is not very difficult. But if you need to snoop on the phone-y activity of a third party in apati, patni aur woh situation, you can always find private agencies who include such 'affirmative action' in their detective work. I also stumbled on a Couple Tracker where the twosome is encouraged to install the app on each other's phones in the spirit of "You snoop on me and I'll snoop on you!"
One legitimate avatar of such phone tracking, is child monitoring. Parents gift phones to even to children below 10 years, to give them a safety umbilical. But this is a double edged sword: Kids are curious and tend to misuse phones, acquire dubious friends or exchange objectionable material. On this page we have reviewed a few children's phones that come preinstalled, with tools to track what your children arer viewing; block adult sites; keep tabs on their friends -- and also lay out a Geofence -- a GPS-driven boundary beyond which they can't stray without triggering an alert message to you. If they are taken forcibly, there is a one-key SOS they can send.
Even if you buy a standard phone, you can install free apps like Family Locator or Family Time to invoke this type of parental oversight over multiple children.
One Indian app that requires the school to register, is Northstar. It helps parents track their children even when they are in the school bus.
Another desi transport tracking solution is EvoSchool from Delhi-based Evoxyz, which shows you your kids' location when they are in school and en route. Very small children can be fitted with a small waterproof Evotag that can be tracked by the parent.
Phone snooping technology doesn't take a moral stand. It work equally well for anxious parents and paranoid spouses. Someone, some where, is probably watching what you do. You can try and reduce the risk by ensuring, people can't get their hands on your device to install a tracker. Soon, they may be able to do it remotely. But are you going to throw away your phone? I thought not!