How “stalkerware” apps are letting abusive partners spy on their victims

“He knew where I was at all times, who I was talking to on email, text messages, social media—all of it. He could see everything. I had no privacy,” says Anna (not her real name). Anna’s experience is not an isolated one: it’s a daily reality for thousands of people, most of them women.

That’s because, usually without their knowledge, their partners have installed stalkerware on their devices—apps that let someone spy on your smartphone activity. Sometimes these apps require access to the person’s device, but some of them just require you to send someone an innocuous-seeming download. As soon as your victim has clicked through, you’re in. You now have access to everything.

In Anna’s case, stalkerware was disguised as a picture message, sent to her by the man she was dating (let’s call him David), just a few weeks after they met. She was then under constant surveillance for about two years until she escaped the increasingly violent relationship in June 2016, in fear for her life.

She didn’t start to suspect David until two months after they started dating. “He made a comment about something I’d only shared privately, in Facebook Messenger, with a relative. After that I realized he was tracking everything,” Anna says.

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