This article has been published on the Spanish website El Pais.

The number of the apps for tracking your loved ones online has exploded. We tell you about the most famous ones and their legal consequences

People Imitate Governments

What would you do if you found out that your partner has an app like Tinder, Grindr or Badoo installed on their phone? The first step in a healthy relationship would be to ask them directly about the reasons for them having this app. There is a possibility that yes, they are cheating on you; but also they might have had the app before meeting you and installed it automatically from the cloud in their current cellular phone. Maybe they have just used it once to find out if their friends were on it, for laughs.

But we live in the time of Snowden and Assange, and so thousands of couples prefer to place themselves in the hands of the many recent spy apps instead of doing the hard work of talking to each other. Surely, more than one person had thought that if democratic governments have confessed (without any embarrassment) to spy on us daily “for security purposes”, why can’t I spy on my partner without them knowing to ensure our relationship? And so the appearance of these apps, some illegal and all morally questionable, has mirrored the growth of online dating and flirting services.

Swipebuster, FlexiSpy or mCouple have killed the classic private detectives of the cloak and dagger variety. And their usage will continue growing, as according to a recent survey 42% of Tinder users are in a relationship and 30% of them are married.

Bust ‘em Swipers

For many couples and families, tracking applications can be very useful in an appropriate scenario – like making sure an adolescent returns home late at night or keeping track of the kids in huge department stores. Nevertheless, more than resolving doubts these apps tend to feed an existing paranoia and their frequent use is related to cases of infidelity.

For example, with Swipebuster you can know if your partner uses Tinder without looking at their phone. The app scans the whole Tinder database for less than 5 euros. You just enter their name, age and approximate location, and the app will give you a precise response with profiles that match the description, as well the photos, the timestamp of their last login to the service and whether they are looking for men or for women.

Leaving ethics aside, Swipebuster is a perfectly legal alternative that only tracks information which is publicly available to Tinder users after accepting the TOS. Because despite the fact that legislation is different in every country, in Spain it’s crystal clear: spying without consent is illegal. Even so, there are apps that let you take that risk with just a click.

FlexiSpy in Spanish Court

“If you are in a stable relationship, responsible for a child, or manage an employee, you have a right to know. Find out the truth, spy on their Phone”. With this slogan one of the most famous spying services, FlexiSpy, advertises itself. For some 300 euros a year you can buy their most complete version, the Extreme, which includes listening and recording of any call, and hacking passwords. However, its presence in our country could be near the end. The association for prevention of computer crimes APEDANICA has filed a lawsuit against its creators, based on an 2013 espionage case that took place between deputies of Madrid city council.

mSpy Is Not Responsible

Another one of the more famous tracking apps, mSpy, offers software that allows to record each call, see every email, app, photo or message in their computer or mobile phone. As if were talking of James Bond’s secret service, any action can be monitored. Their Premium version for iPhone is sold for 14 euros a month.

Even if they claim to be focused on on controlling the access of children and employees to the Internet, there are no usage limitations given to the clients. And the responsibility in these case is also vague.

The founder of mSpy, Andrei Shimanovich, declared that even he knew that his product can be used to commit illegal acts, it’s not his responsibility. “It’s similar to an arms manufacturer. If you buy a gun and shoot somebody, nobody goes after the manufacturer. The shooter is responsible. It’s the same with mSpy. We only offer services that can solve certain problems related to parents and their adolescent children”.

Same dog with a different collar

On the (somewhat more) light side of the force we find other applications that also permit unlimited access to the other’s phone, but in a consensual manner. mCouple is sold on the web as an app to “avoid guessing games and protect your loved one from any harm”. Among its functions are location sharing, access to the call log, contacts, messages and Facebook chats.

Well, surrendering your mobile phone and all of your privacy to another is not very representative of a strong relationship. The therapist Jennine Estes wrote at The Guardian that these technologies could introduce a toxic dynamic that would make the couples trust the technology more than themselves. “The partner can never give comfort or reassurance because the other person’s always going into their phone and saying: ‘What about this, what about that?’”. And yes, behind mCouple are the creators of mSpy. Same dog with a different collar.

The Best Solution

Independently of how reprehensible it is for the technology to spy on your partner, we have to know the consequences that these tools can provoke in the wrong hands. No matter how desperate we are, the use of these apps can bring us serious problems. Just a few months ago, the criminal court of Almería (a city in the south of Spain) sentenced a man to two and half years of prison for the crime of a disclosure of secrets. The accused has been obtaining for months intimate information, photos and videos of his ex-partner through a mobile spy application called Cerberus. The suitable solution is to forget about the apps, to be brave and have a honest conversation with your partner.

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