Do you ever feel like someone is watching you? Well, they might be if you have an Android smartphone. It is possible for someone to install a spy tracking app on your phone without your knowledge and track everything that you do and where you are via GPS. In this article, we will explain how to know if you are being secretly tracked and what kind of data the spy tracking apps reveal. Stay safe and protect your privacy by knowing what to look for.
If you have an Android smartphone, there is a chance that someone has installed a spy tracking app on it without your knowledge. These apps are designed to track everything that you do and where you are via GPS. They can also collect data about the people you contact and the websites you visit. All of this data is then sent to the person who installed the spy app on your phone.
A bit of info before we start
While spying is generally not okay without someone’s knowledge or consent, I could imagine that there are some good reasons why a person would want to track the activity of someone else or see where they are to prevent danger. For tracking children though, you should consider using apps that are precisely for that use case, so no need to find “hidden spy apps” with a questionable reputation.
I did all these tests myself on a modern Android smartphone running the latest OS version and security patch. I don’t want to give anyone a bad idea about how to spy on another person, and this is why I will not mention the apps that were tested. This is further not relevant to the person who is being spied on and to the process of removing the spy app.
How can someone install a spy app on your Android smartphone?
The easiest way for someone to install a spying app on your phone secretly is by simply taking your phone while you’re absent but leaving the device in reach to someone. If you lock your device, then there is only little risk for someone to be able to hack into it quickly, let’s say, until you come back from the restroom.
It’s more likely that a jealous partner or a weird kind of “friend” would abuse your trust because they can unlock your phone anyway, or you didn’t even bother locking it with them around. They would then need to access the spy app’s website to download and install the software and follow a wizard to enable all the configurations on the device. While these can be numerous, they can be completed in less than a minute if they tried this out first on another device.
What kind of data can a spy app collect from your breached device?
I tried this out, and the results are rather irritating. Every selfie the software took turned out just terribly. Just aside, next to unwilling portraits, a lot of your phone is actually tracked and reported. The spy app would collect data and relatively quickly upload all the information to a cloud, where the person spying on you can check it all out. They could see information such as:
- Call logs
- Text history, including messengers such as WhatsApp (despite encryption)
- Location (where you are and where you went)
- Websites that you visited
- Selfies that you didn’t know are taken of you (yes, also in the bathroom)
- Screenshots showing what you are doing
- Changes in the contacts
- SIM card changes
- Calendar changes
- Depending on how good the spy app is maybe even more
All in all, I think we’d all prefer if nobody collected data like that from our devices. Especially if the spy is not a company who wants to sell you something, but a friend, spouse, member of the family, or someone else you trust.
Is it really that bad if someone spies on you?
That’s up to what you do on your phone and the person who spies on you really. If it’s the classic case of a jealous spouse, then you’ll maybe not need to be concerned about your bank account and other financial data. And yet, if the spy chooses their spying partner technology poorly, maybe not only will the captured data be available to them.
Perhaps it’s not a personal cloud, but this “company” is secretly betraying the spies by stealing this data, selling it, or using access credentials without anyone knowing about it. Remember those “free” VPNs and what they do with your data? If you use a “free” spy app, then all kinds of things could happen with this stolen data and credentials, even if it was originally merely a prank and the tracking person means no harm. Remember: No service is truly free, and when you’re not charged, then you are the product.
How can I check if I am being tracked?
So, how can you tell if you are being secretly tracked? There are a few signs to look for. If you notice that your battery is draining faster than usual, this could be a sign that a spy app is running in the background and using up your battery power. Another sign to look for is unusual data usage. If you notice that your data usage has increased significantly, this could be another sign that a spy app is running in the background and using up your data allowance. Some spy apps can be switched to use only Wi-Fi data, though, so make sure you take this into consideration as well.
In newer Android versions, there will be more obvious flags, though. For instance, there is a green dot (or camera icon) showing in the upper right corner whenever the camera is being used. If you notice that while you’re not using the camera, this is an indication of another app secretly taking snapshots of the front or rear camera. Similar to that green icon for the camera feed, there will be a red screencast symbol showing up when screenshots are being taken. Either of these showing up without you controlling them are clear signs that there is already a security breach on your phone. These icons or awareness warnings would show up only for a second, so you’ll need to pay attention to that.
Depending on how smart the app is, they will try to disguise these indications as well. For instance, they might try to take a selfie of you while you’re using face unlock features which are also using the camera driver, so you can’t distinguish between legitimate use and a potential problem. Another indicator is that the spy app mostly needs to be installed as an app and is then simply disguised. So if you ever scroll through your apps and see an icon that you are not familiar with and something you didn’t install, it’s worth taking a second look at it. For instance, one of the apps I tried would pretend to be a “Wi-Fi” app, simply opening up your regular Wi-Fi settings if you tapped on it. If the term Wi-Fi isn’t common in your language, like over here in Germany, where they use the term WLAN instead, seeing a “Wi-Fi” app without proper name label is even more curious.
How to identify and remove spy apps from your phone?
New versions of Android OS have an increased security aspect, and despite the rogue user installing the spy app and configuring everything to keep it hidden, the system would likely tell you after about 24 hours that there is an app running on your phone, naming it, and telling you that it can see and control everything you do on your phone. Now, that’s a big red flag, and if you don’t ignore that, you can now follow Android’s wizard to assess the issue and remove the spy app. Depending on how sophisticated the tech is, this might be successful, or not, or maybe not entirely.
If you think you might be being secretly tracked, the best thing to do is to install an anti-spyware app on your phone. These apps will scan your phone for any spy apps that might be installed and remove them. Once you have removed the spy app, make sure to change all of your passwords so that the person who was tracking you cannot access your accounts anymore. You can try any kind of anti-virus or security app that you trust, but in my test, I got very quick and good results by using the free scanner from Kaspersky.
After the anti-virus spotted and uninstalled the culprit APK file, no additional data was shared into the spy cloud. If you want keep your device safe at all times, you might want to check if there is a good security solution for your Android smartphone that you can keep running all the time to prevent malicious software to be installed remotely or with direct access to the device. This doesn’t give you a guarantee, but it certainly helps more than not having any kind of security on your phone to begin with.
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Zurijeta. The photo in the body of the article has been done by Deagreez1. The screenshots in the body of the article have been done by Christopher Isak for TechAcute.