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Is It Illegal to Track People With an App?

Every move you make and every picture you take is posted online, so do you mind if people are tracking you? There are more than a dozen smartphone applications on the market that allow people to spy on you surreptitiously and many more with various tracking abilities requiring your consent.

The Government Accountability Office just reviewed 40 such tracking apps at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee, finding possible violations of federal wiretapping laws and stalking statutes when the apps are used as suggested. The authorities also discovered a sneaky way companies get around liability for the fact that their apps facilitate illegal activities, reports Consumerist. But that doesn't mean you can break the law.

Watching You

The GAO's report does not name the apps it reviewed, noting only that it covered a range of trackers intended for parents, employers, jealous lovers, and others. Of the 40 apps reviewed, they found that about a third, or 13 apps, had surreptitious uses. These allowed people to track another without the person knowing.

This is particularly problematic because some of these apps facilitate activities that are illegal under federal law, like recording a conversation without the consent of at least one person involved. Some of the apps allowed people to secretly read mail or text messages that another person receives, also a violation of federal law.

It should perhaps not be surprising that the makers of deceptive applications use a sneaky way to get around the fact that they are promoting illegality. It's very simple but it reportedly works.

Two-Faced Marketing Materials

The app makers are blatantly two-faced, reports Consumerist. By warning against law breaking in one portion of their product literature and suggesting ways to illegally spy in other portions, the companies can disclaim liability for crimes committed with the apps.

Authorities have prosecuted tracking application makers successfully but there are also cases in which courts have found some tracking to be non-invasive, for example, ruling that location data is not "content" and tracking it does not violate the law.

Still, if you are using an app to surreptitiously track someone, seriously think about what you are doing. You could be violating stalking, wiretapping, and other federal statutes, not to mention state law. Don't assume that because you were able to buy the app, anything you do on it is ok.

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