FTC bans 'stalkerware' company from operating in surveillance industry

FTC bans 'stalkerware' company from operating in surveillance industry
© Greg Nash

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday banned the operation of an app alleged to be used as “stalkerware” and the company’s CEO from the surveillance industry following allegations that the company had collected and shared data to enable stalking.

As part of the order from the FTC, approved unanimously by commissioners, SpyFone and its CEO Scott Zuckerman were banned from operating in the surveillance business, The FTC bfurther ordered the company to delete data taken from user devices through the SpyFone app, including location information and information on online activities. 

The FTC alleged SpyFone sold access to this information in real time, enabling stalkers, domestic abusers, and other malicious individuals to follow the movements of those targeted. The FTC also raised concerns that SpyFone lacked basic cybersecurity measures, further exposing individuals with targeted devices. 

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“SpyFone is a brazen brand name for a surveillance business that helped stalkers steal private information,” Samuel Levine, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement Wednesday. “The stalkerware was hidden from device owners, but was fully exposed to hackers who exploited the company’s slipshod security.”

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

According to the complaint, SpyFone was marketed to Android device users as a way to monitor the activities of children or employees and was not available through the Google Play store. Once the app is installed on the device, it does not show up on the listed apps and can be used to monitor the user remotely from an online dashboard. 

Both SpyFone and Support King, which did business as SpyFone, did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the case. 

This is the first time the FTC has obtained a ban against a stalkerware app, but the second case it has brought against these types of companies. 

The FTC in 2019 charged Retina X Studios and its founder with violating a consumer’s privacy and opening up security vulnerabilities through the use of three stalkerware apps developed by the company.