mSpy is a mobile monitoring software that runs in stealth mode on a phone, enabling a remote user to track the phone’s activity, including text messages, emails, calls, location changes, and even calendar updates.  One simply has to log in online to a cloud-based control panel to review the wealth of aggregated information. The “tracker” can also perform remote commands, such as blocking access to websites. Previously, one had to gain physical access to a phone in order to install the application. Now, though, mSpy has announced that it is selling smartphones preloaded with the software.

On its website, mSpy claims that it is providing an invaluable service to parents wishing to keep a closer eye on their children and to employers wanting increased supervision over their employees.

The company is quick to point out that creating and marketing spy software is legal. It is how the consumer then uses this software that can lead to illegality. mSpy provides a prominent disclaimer on their website: “Our software is designed for monitoring your children, employees or others on a smartphone or mobile device that you own or have proper consent to monitor. You are required to notify users of the device that they are being monitored.” As an example of the proper use of its software, mSpy quotes a testimonial from an Orange County criminal defense attorney:

I think mSpy app is one of the most useful and important things for parents to have. This app can make the difference in getting your child home safe and keeping them out of trouble. The mSpy app will help parents know where their child is at all times, who they’re hanging out with, and if they’re being victimized by predators. As a parent, these are the most common ways a child’s safety and well-being can be compromised.

Company founder Andrei Shimanovich analogizes the selling of his software to the selling of firearms. “It is the same question with the gun producer,” he says. “If you go out and buy a gun and go shoot someone, no one will go after the gun producer. People who shoot someone will be responsible for this. Same thing for mSpy. We just provide the services . . .”  The company website reflects this position, alerting potential consumers that, “Companies who provide cell phone spy software do not have any control over what you use their apps for once you have purchased it. Therefore, they will usually have a disclaimer on their website which absolves them of any legal responsibility should you decide to break the law.”

In their Software End User Licensing Agreement, mSpy writes that:

It is a considered federal and/or state violation of the law in most cases to install surveillance software onto a mobile phone or other device for which you do not have proper authorization, and in most cases you are required to notify users of the device that they are being monitored. Failure to do so may result in a violation of federal or state laws, if you install this software onto a device you do not own or if you do not have proper consent to monitor the user of the device.

We absolutely do not endorse the use of our software for illegal purposes.

The emphasis mSpy puts on the legality of its product and its dedication to numerous explanations and disclaimers concerning its use show that the company is well aware that consumers can easily use its invisible application illegally. So what then, is the company’s responsibility to those who could be affected by the software without their knowledge? By preloading the software onto the smartphones and eliminating the need to gain physical access to the phone, mSpy is only doing what any good business would do: increasing the attractiveness and usability of its product. But how should a company balance the legal and ethical dimensions when selling a controversial product? Should mSpy and other spyware companies put more safeguards in place to help ensure that their products are being used for their intended, marketed purposes and that adult users are being informed that they are being monitored?

–Mary Fletcher King

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