53,870 mobile users were survivors of stalkerware in 2020. Stalkerware is a form of monitoring software which enables a remote user to track activities on another user's device, such as location data, call logs and messages. It is most often used to monitor a spouse or partner without their permission.
The term stalkerware, also known as spyware, refers to a type of app designed to be hidden from the survivor. Survivors are often unaware when this software has been installed on their device.
So what is Stalkaware exactly?
Stalkerware apps can allow someone to track virtually anything you do on your device: following your location, listening to phone calls, viewing text messages and emails, etc. These apps must be manually installed onto a device, so they are most often used by someone close to the survivor, such as a partner, ex-partner, spouse, boss or parent. Many stalkerware apps will market themselves as “parental-monitoring” tools, for parents to track their underaged children.
It’s more common than you think
According to a study, 85% of domestic violence shelters surveyed said they're working directly with survivors whose abusers tracked them using GPS. 75% said they're working with survivors whose abusers eavesdropped on their conversation remotely — using hidden mobile apps.
How to detect Stalkaware
Once installed, it can be very difficult to detect stalkerware, as these apps are designed to be hidden from the device user. However, there are ways to find this software within your phone's settings:
#1: Check your device’s settings or the app store
Even when an app is hidden, it may still appear in your device’s settings or app store. To find a list of downloaded apps, follow the below steps:
For iOS users:
Go to your settings app
Scroll to the bottom to see a list of all downloaded apps
To check which apps have access to your camera, microphone and location, go to Settings > Privacy for complete lists of apps that have access to your camera, microphone, location and other features
For Android users:
Go to your settings app Select Apps & Notifications -> See All Apps
To check which apps have access to your camera, microphone and location, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Permission
Manager for complete lists of apps that have access to your camera, microphone, location and other features
Note: Stalkerware apps may not be be immediately obvious
They may have a different label to disguise themselves, or a label that looks similar to a legitimate app. Look for any apps in your device settings that you don’t recognize. Discuss a safety plan with an advocate before you delete the app. Keep in mind that the abuser will know that the app has been removed from the device and this may escalate the abuse.
Other indicators of Stalkerware
While one of these indicators alone may not be a sign of stalkerware, multiple signs may mean something has been installed on your device:
The stalker has had access to your device. This can mean your device goes missing and reappears or if you’ve loaned your device to someone for an extended period of time
Unknown applications have access to your camera
Your screen starts glitching, lagging or your phone's battery starts draining faster, unexpectedly
If you find Stalkerware on your device…
If someone is tracking your device, they will know when the stalkerware app is deleted. If you decide not to delete the app, consider the following steps on page one to seek help first. If you decide to delete the app first, consider the following steps:
#1: Do a factory reset
A factory reset restores your phone to its original state by deleting all information from the device, including apps and accounts. This can help ensure that all possible stalkerware has been removed from your device. Be sure to backup any necessary files and information before doing so. Note: After a reset, do not restore your device's data from the cloud or from a back up source. This may reinstall the stalkerware.
#2: Get a new device
To be absolutely sure there is no stalkerware on your device, consider purchasing a new one.
#3: Change login credentials
If someone has been viewing your online activities, they will know the credentials for any account you've logged into while stalkerware was installed. Change all your passwords, security questions, etc. for your online accounts.
#4: Seek help
Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or local law enforcement.