Beware of Technology Spies

Amaya Mikolič-Berrios ‘21
EE News Editor

Technology has infiltrated everyone’s home in the modern world, but what many do not know is that their handy new gadget may only be the guise of a household spy. More devices and applications are storing, recording, and even transmitting personal information. Although many such scenarios can be avoided, the terrifying reality is that major companies and even criminals have a front row seat to ins and outs of one’s life.

Although it is difficult to quantify how many people are victims of this abuse, it is estimated that about 27 percent of women and 11 percent of men have had digital stalkers in the United States. Digital stalking often occurs through a user’s cellphone or laptop. Several apps allow remote access to messages, GPS, cameras, and more. Despite laws against stalking, digital spying frequently occurs through legal apps allowing the tracking of children or phones, making it challenging to take legal action.

Mobile phone and computer applications are a serious threat to privacy. Although many are disguised as trackers for children or phones, they are marketed as having uses for tracking spouses or partners. This is the case in many domestic violence incidents.

More than 200 apps and services offer would-be stalkers a variety of capabilities, from basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video,” said The New York Times in reference to a study called “The Spyware Used in Intimate Partner Violence.”

For example, “Brooks Owen Laughlin is accused of beating his wife and using an app typically used for benign purposes, Find My iPhone, to control her movements,” according to the New York Times when addressing how apps are used for stalking. However, not only criminals spy on private lives. Major companies such as Google, Facebook, Uber, and Twitter have stored and distributed personal information like email, occupation, age, and sex to unreliable third party sources. Although in many cases the data leakage was unintentional, it leaves millions of users vulnerable and insecure.

In a chilling incident, a woman having a private conversation with her husband was called by a colleague who said, “unplug your Alexa devices right now, you’re being hacked,” according to the New York Times. The couple’s Amazon Echo had been recording the conversation, despite not having been requested by the wake word, and sent it to a random number on their address book.

The scary truth of digital stalking is that it is difficult to track. In many cases, people who are being stalked are unaware of it, but it puts their identity and possessions at risk.

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