U.S. authorities have arrested and charged a Pakistani man for allegedly marketing and selling a mobile app designed for stalking. Hammad Akbar, CEO of a company called InvoCode Ltd., was named as "a leader of the criminal conspiracy responsible for StealthGenie," according to the indictment.
InvoCode's StealthGenie app was described on the StealthGenie Web site as "the most powerful cell phone spy and tracking software that lets you monitor all the activities of any iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone." Although the site has been taken down by the order of federal authorities, a cached version stated the "state-of-the-art application works in stealth mode which means that it will never be found on the monitored phone."
The app let users record all incoming and outgoing voice calls on another person’s device, intercept calls for live monitoring, record off-phone conversations taking place within 15 feet of a device and monitor e-mails, text messages and voicemail messages, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint against Akbar filed last Friday in a U.S. district court in Virginia.
Designed for 'Stalkers and Domestic Abusers'
"Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim's personal life -- all without the victim's knowledge," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell of the DOJ's criminal division. The indictment stated that the company’s business plan indicated that it expected about 65 percent of the market to be people trying to spy on cheating spouses.
Akbar was arrested in Los Angeles on Saturday and was set to appear before a magistrate judge in the Central District Court of California on Monday, according to the DOJ. He remains in the custody of the US Marshals Service pending a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday.
On Friday, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a temporary restraining order that authorized the FBI to temporarily disable the StealthGenie Web site.
A cached version of the site claimed "over 100,000 satisfied customers." A disclaimer at the bottom of the site also noted that the app was "designed for ethical monitoring for parents who wish to monitor their underage children or for employers who wish to monitor their employees with their written consent." It added, "If you attempt to use StealthGenie software to monitor a smartphone you do not own or have proper written consent to do so by the owner of the smartphone, you may be breaking local, federal and state laws."
While the StealthGenie site is not available, InvoCode's Web site was still active as of this morning. The company's Web pages listed offices in both Lahore, Pakistan, and Birmingham in the U.K., and stated that Akbar founded the company in 2010.
A Gap in Current Laws
We reached out to Alan Butler, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to learn more about the use of spyware apps such as StealthGenie.
"It's really too bad there's a market for this kind of stuff," Butler said. He added that the proliferation of such apps underscores the importance of keeping one's personal devices secure and "being conscious of what's installed on them."
While current laws provide adequate protection against other forms of individual snooping such as intercepting others' e-mails, there's "definitely a gap" regarding spying involving geolocation data, Butler said.
"We're woefully behind," he said, noting that most privacy laws were written before the ability to easily track geolocation data was developed.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has been trying for a few years now to pass a bill aimed at preventing GPS-based stalking. While the current version of his bill -- the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 -- generally has broad, bipartisan support, nothing's moved in this current session of Congress, Butler said.
Posted: 2014-10-08 @ 9:03am PT
Stealth Genie changed my life for the better! It saved me from another 14 years of cheating and lies. I had no choice but to resort to Stealth Genie in order to find out the truth. It's my phone and I pay the bill. I needed my suspicions confirmed or not. Without proof, he would just tell more lies to smooth over the situation. Cheaters and liars are the ones upset about this app, why? Because they finally got caught red handed and can't lie their way out of it. If you're in a relationship and you lie and cheat on the other person, how can you HONESTLY feel you're the victim? Really? You get what you deserve. Oh that's right, cheaters & liars don't know the meaning of honesty.
Posted: 2014-10-07 @ 3:56pm PT
People!!!! We need to do something about this A.S.A.P. “StealthGenie" Hammad Akbar has invaded our privacy. I am a victim to his nonsense app. Please get with me. A class action needs to be started A.S.A.P... He needs to be down for life.
Posted: 2014-10-04 @ 11:29pm PT
My "X" has kept this STALKING TOOL on my phone for the last four years. My "X" is a diagnosed psychopath. I would like the "Genius" who turned this TOOL OF TERROR loose on me to go thru the beatings, all the horrors he caused. That guy enabled my tormentor, made him almost omnipotent. Or so he thought. The program author must be made to realize: just because you can, doesn't make it right.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 5:51pm PT
If I pay the bill on my cheating spouse's phone, then I should have the ownership interest necessary to install whatever I want on that phone. The one being cheated on is as much a victim as a person who is in a relationship with a controlling spouse.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 9:22am PT
A business owner can't make money off a product, yet the government can surreptitiously monitor your actions without the same repercussions. Sounds legal to me.