Senate Looks to Shut Down Cyberstalking Software

By Steve Anderson December 13, 2012

For those not already familiar, cyberstalking software offers the ability to easily track the whereabouts of a certain person by installing certain software on their smartphone that records and transmits the phone's whereabouts back to the installers' choice of locations. Some may call it a boon to relationships everywhere, and some may call it a massive invasion of privacy, but what some in Congress want to call it is a little more simple: illegal.

New legislation being considered today is expected to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee that would close a loophole allowing cyberstalking software to be quietly placed on a smartphone, where it would quietly operate without the user's knowledge. Sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, Chairman of the Senate Privacy, Technology and the Law subcommittee, the bill serves to update laws passed well before the rise of smartphones and whose lack of updating allows cyberstalking software to exist.


Image via Shutterstock

One such cyberstalking software provider, Retina Software--who describes their offering not as "cyberstalking" but as "stealth phone spy software"--responded to the idea, saying that their program was for "the lawful monitoring of a cell phone that the purchaser of the software owns and has a right to monitor." Further, Retina Software described their policies on using the software on devices not owned by the software's purchaser, saying that if there was evidence that the customer doesn't own the phone in question, the account is subsequently closed, and that the program isn't marketed for malicious purposes.

Franken and his Senatorial cohorts, meanwhile, assert that getting the evidence that Retina would demand to shut down an account is difficult at best, making it a weak protestation that they would shut down accounts of those using Retina products for "cyberstalking" purposes. The apps can be installed and operated entirely without the knowledge of the phone's actual owner, and there's little way to tell that the software was improperly installed. Even law enforcement doesn't commonly care about the use of such software as they have more important things to deal with than jealous lovers or the like who improperly installed an app on someone's smartphone.

Franken's bill, in turn, would subject companies to civil liability for two points: one, not notifying a user within seven days that their tracking services are running on their phones and two, failing to get permission from the person who owns the mobile device to share their location information with other people. The bill came around following Franken's visit to a domestic violence shelter in Minneapolis, when a woman described how her abuser was using the information from a cyberstalking app to follow her movements from point to point.

An organization of software companies, meanwhile, wants Franken's bill changed because of its potential to hamper innovation without actually addressing the problem. The bill already includes an exception for parents who want to add cyberstalking software to their children’s' phones, but the industry feels that voluntary restrictions on the industry would do better.

We all want people to be safe with their smartphones, and tracking software like this may be doing ultimately more harm than good. The balance between the rights of companies to put out software like this, which does have some viable uses--even the legislation allows for tracking software on children by parents--must be weighed against the rights of regular people to go about their business untracked. Franken's bill may not be the best solution to this particular problem, but it may well be the closest thing there is.




Edited by Brooke Neuman

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Related Articles

Top 3 Takeaways from Microsoft Ignite

By: Special Guest    10/2/2017

Microsoft Ignite wrapped up last week in Orlando. At the company's big conference dedicated to IT professionals and developers, 25,000 business custom…

Read More

Millennials Want Smart Home Tech More Than Anyone

By: Larry Alton    10/2/2017

Millennials are known for having very specific interests. They also hold a significant level of buying power in certain markets, particularly technolo…

Read More

SpaceX Names Satellite Broadband Service, Works FCC Connect America

By: Doug Mohney    9/29/2017

"Starlink" is the potential title for SpaceX's massive satellite network to deliver high-speed Internet access, reports Florida Today. The company has…

Read More

New Apple iPhone X as Much Hype as Innovation

By: Doug Mohney    9/28/2017

Apple is counting on it with the iPhone X -- the "X" symbolizing the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Fans of the company are falling all over themselv…

Read More

Alexa and the PBX, Coming Soon

By: Doug Mohney    9/28/2017

This week, Amazon unloaded a ton of Alexa-enabled Echo gizmos, including the Echo Connect. Shipping on December 13, 2017 (just before the holiday seas…

Read More