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What if your phone calls, texts, FaceTime sessions, and GPS locations were being logged without your consent? What if they were all being sent to a tech-savvy stalker—often a former romantic partner or an abusively controlling current partner—who had gotten malware onto your phones, tablets, and pcs, effectively bugging them? That’s the unsettling job of stalkerware, a type of commercially available software designed to spy on victims without being detected.
Stalkerware can operate stealthily, so you probably wouldn’t know if your devices had it installed. According to a 2020 report from cybersecurity company Kaspersky, a majority of people with stalkerware on their devices don’t even know that the type of software exists, meaning they can’t protect themselves from it. We’ll help you understand what stalkerware is, how to remove it from your devices, and how to make sure stalkers can’t install it on your devices again, once they are clean.
What Stalkerware Is and Why It’s Considered Abusive
Make no mistake, stalkerware is a form of abuse. According to the Coalition Against Stalkerware (CAS), this type of software “may facilitate intimate partner surveillance, harassment, abuse, stalking, and/or violence.” Stalkerware is often marketed as a way to spy on current or former romantic partners, but it can also be found packaged as parental control software or employee tracking solutions.
Stalkerware programs’ legal status is vague in most countries. In many places, the software itself can be distributed legally. Using stalkerware to monitor someone, however, may be a punishable offense. The people who create stalkerware usually mention this in the terms and conditions, stating that you must not use the software in a manner that is illegal in the country or territory in which you live.
Technology-enabled abuse isn’t limited to stalkerware. Abusers can use seemingly innocuous utilities and built-in parental control apps like the “Find My” and Screen Time functions on Apple devices to keep tabs on their partner’s whereabouts and activity. Google’s Family Link application can be similarly used and abused by stalkers to track survivors or limit the sites they can…