The phone that ev­ery stalker will want

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Bar­bara Ellen

Is stalker-tech not only with us, but at risk of be­com­ing nor­malised? Phones sold by the Cal­i­for­nia-based Spy­fones track the user with­out their knowl­edge, mon­i­tor­ing ev­ery­thing from lo­ca­tion, mes­sages and emails to call his­tory, searches and app use. They are aimed at com­pa­nies that wish to guard against im­proper us­age and also of­fer “spousal peace of mind”. Mod­els in­clude an iPhone and a Sam­sung. A spokesman for Spy­fones said that Bri­tish in­ter­est was driv­ing sig­nif­i­cant traf­fic to its site.

Re­cently, I wrote that there was a safety ar­gu­ment for an app (Re­plyASAP) that dis­abled mo­biles if teenagers didn’t re­spond to anx­ious par­ents. Spy­fones is a very dif­fer­ent proposition. A com­pany phone shouldn’t be an ex­cuse for un­ac­cept­able lev­els of sur­veil­lance and in­tru­sion. (The Euro­pean court of hu­man rights has just amended an ear­lier rul­ing about cor­po­rate mon­i­tor­ing of in­ter­net use.) Then there’s this “spousal peace of mind”. What they mean is that peo­ple would be able to spy on each other, not just hus­bands and wives, but former part­ners, too. This isn’t just dis­turb­ing and in­ap­pro­pri­ate, it’s danger­ous.

Cou­ples give each other smart­phones as presents all the time. Peo­ple could end up be­ing able to spy on part­ners and former part­ners’ searches, in­ter­ac­tions and plans for as long as they like, which is bad enough. Then there’s the added safety as­pect of a con­trol­ling, un­sta­ble, re­jected and an­gry per­son know­ing ex­actly where their quarry is at all times.

The point of any track­ing tech­nol­ogy ought to be to help keep peo­ple safe, not place them in dan­ger. The bot­tom line should be that the per­son with the phone is aware from the start that the track­ing tech­nol­ogy is on there. Other­wise, this isn’t just a breach of hu­man rights, it’s a prime piece of stalker kit.

Could you trust some­one who gives you an iPhone? Pho­to­graph: Carolyn Kaster/ AP

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