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Here are 10 of the creepiest mobile apps, some of which are still available for download
This week, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the CEO of StealthGenie on charges that the company's apps violate federal laws against invading others' privacy, an arrest the government has called the first of its kind. However, StealthGenie is hardly the only company that has developed tools that turn communications devices into tools for spying, stalking, and digging up information on other people. Here are 10 of the creepiest mobile apps, some of which are still available for download, but might not be for long if the prosecution against StealthGenie is successful.
StealthGenie did it all
According to the FBI, StealthGenie's software recorded the phone calls made on the device on which it was installed; allowed a remote user to activate the device's microphone to broadcast in-person conversations within a 15-foot radius of the device; monitored text, email, and voicemail messages; granted access to the device's photographs, videos, address book, and calendar; and tracked and displayed the users' movements on an online map. The company claimed that most of its business consisted of people trying to figure out if their significant others were carrying on affairs, although it also marketed the software to parents who want to keep tabs on their children and businesses that want to monitor employees.
Mobile Spy: Still available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Mac, and PC
The next most prominent suite of device spying tools, at least on Google search results for "mobile apps for spying," is the aptly named Mobile Spy, which supports basically every type of mobile device available on the market. The website's description of the Mobile Spy service seems pretty incriminating in the wake of the StealthGenie indictment – "You install a small application directly onto the phone you own and want to monitor. It starts at every boot of the phone, remains stealth and does not show up in the running process list." Also like StealthGenie, Mobile Spy users can activate a device's microphone remotely and follow the location of the device.
How to Spy guide on iOS
For the less technologically inclined, an iOS app that calls itself "a step-by-step how to spy and phone tracker guide" promises to teach people how to spy on text and email messages, find hidden passwords, and how to use spyware and keyloggers.
Girls Around Me
This app gained notoriety in early 2012 by scanning for location data of nearby Foursquare and Facebook users to aggregate information on all the people within its users' proximity. The problem was that the Girls Around Me app (which, despite its name, also aggregated data on men) never asked Foursquare or Facebook users for permission to access this data, nor to show it to Girls Around Me users. This violated Foursquare's API policy, not to mention other peoples' privacy, and before long Foursquare shut off the developers' API access and Apple withdrew the app from the App Store.
Another app that blatantly bills itself as spyware, TopSpyApp promises to "reveal the truth" on iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices, and even boasts the ability to monitor conversations on third-party messaging services like Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook's Messenger app.
Winky for Google Glass
One common complaint among those who oppose Google Glass is that it's not always clear when those wearing the device are taking photos or capturing video of those around them. Winky tried to make that even more discrete, enabling the device to snap a photo whenever the user blinked while the device was turned on. Without Winky, users need to either make a voice command or press a button on the side of the Glass device to capture a photo. Google eventually baked the wink-for-photo command into a Glass software update as an "experimental feature."
NameTag facial recognition for Google Glass
A highly controversial app called NameTag used facial recognition to search photos of people against a database containing records from social networks, dating sites, and multiple criminal databases, including the National Sex Offender Registry. Google was quick to denounce the app, reminding the world that facial recognition apps violate the Glass developer policy. NameTag's developers were seemingly aware that their app would not be supported for Glass, and expressed interest in adapting it for Glass competitors that had fewer restrictions.
Recognizr facial recognition for smartphones
In 2010, a mobile software company called The Astonishing Tribe demoed an app called Recognizr that created a 3D model based on a photo of a person and finds a match within social networks, then uses augmented reality to project links to their social accounts next to their face. The app never made it to the public, and The Astonishing Tribe was acquired by Research In Motion in 2010, so if a Blackberry-only version of the app is in the works, it's taking a while to come to market.
Background Check for iOS and Android
A website called BeenVerified.com offers an app for both iOS and Android that provides one free background check per month, and charges for each background check after that. The app bills itself as some kind of a digital private investigator. Its description in the Google Play store promises users they can be their own detective, and says "imagine sitting at the bar and finding out the truth about the person who just bought you a drink all before they return from the bathroom."
Trick or Tracker for monitoring kids' whereabouts
Trick or Tracker describes itself as a tool for keeping track of where their kids go while trick or treating on Halloween, but presumably works on other days of the year. According to a Market Watch article, the app – installed on both the child’s and parent’s smartphones – keeps track of the child’s location through its GPS capability and can be set to automatically send the parent a text message showing the child’s phone’s location every 15 minutes.