The developer of several stalkerware apps has been handed a fine of nearly half a million dollars and told to modify the software.
A consortium of 16 companies owned by Patrick Hinchy produced snooping apps Auto Forward, Easy Spy, DDI Utilities, Highster Mobile, PhoneSpector, Surepoint and TurboSpy.
These enabled customers to secretly monitor a comprehensive range of activities on other devices, including call logs; text messages; photos and videos; location; Gmail, WhatsApp and Skype; social media activity and browsing history.
Although Hinchy promoted the software as legal, it required users to install it on other adults’ mobile devices, which breaks federal and New York state laws, according to attorney general Leticia James.
Hinchy failed to inform customers of the potential damage installing the products could cause to a device. Rooting or jailbreaking devices invalidates the manufacturer’s warranty.
Hinchy also misled customers about refund policies, made false claims about the security of data obtained via the stalkerware, and even created fake review sites to convince consumers to purchase his software, according to the New York attorney general.
He is said to have created multiple sites purporting to provide technology advice, but which were actually created for the sole purpose of selling the products.
“Snooping on a partner and tracking their cell phone without their knowledge isn’t just a sign of an unhealthy relationship, it is against the law,” said James.
“These apps and products put New Yorkers at risk of stalking and domestic abuse, and were aggressively promoted by Patrick Hinchy through 16 different companies. Today’s agreement will block these companies from allowing New Yorkers to be monitored without their awareness, and will continue our ongoing fight to protect New Yorkers’ rights, safety and privacy.”
Alongside the $410,000 fine, Hinchy will be required to update the apps so that device owners know their devices are being monitored.
The US is among the top three countries in the world for stalkerware downloads.