FF12: Smartphones new tool for digital spying

Published: Feb. 1, 2018 at 9:56 PM CST
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"He had been stalking me for weeks without me knowing how."

Angie was just getting out of a serious relationship. She shared a child with the man she dated for five years. Shortly after the breakup, she noticed her ex always seemed to know where she was.

"I had gone out just to do some karaoke one night and he actually texted me and said 'oh, you're at my favorite bar', and I was like 'how do you know where I'm at? Are you following me?"

Angie got those texts several times a week. She says she started to fear for her safety, and worried her ex would confront her in public.

"I got scared to go anywhere. I was literally scared just to be at home because I didn't know if he was outside my house."

Weeks later, she got a notification from Sprint saying the Family Locator had been activated on her phone. The app is designed to help parents keep kids safe. It was undetectable on her phone, but still sharing a plan with her ex she knew exactly who was behind it.

"It's shocking and it's really scary to know how easy it is for someone to be able to do it," said Angie.

Angie's story is not unique. Family attorney Boyd McPherson estimates hundreds, if not thousands of people in Wichita are being tracked by an ex or current partner. McPherson says he's worked roughly two dozen domestic cases involving tracking devices.

There are dozens of apps for both iPhone and Android users that allow you to track someone's location. Some even let you see who a person is texting and what they're saying. Certain apps are hidden, meaning they don't have a visible icon.

"I bring it up to my clients to be wary that it may be happening to them, and I bring it up to clients to say I don't want them doing this," said McPherson.

Although McPherson advises against the use of trackers, they could be perfectly legal in Kansas. Factfinder 12 asked several other attorneys in Wichita if tracking someone electronically is against the law. We found out it depends on the situation.

"I think it's more likely in many cases that it would be considered an invasion of privacy," said McPherson.

If the tracking device is placed on shared property, like a jointly owned car or phone, the law is unclear in Kansas. McPherson says the law has yet to catch up with the developing technology.

Factfinder 12 found two cases from other states involving electronic tracking. In a 2007 Texas case, a man was sentenced to four years in prison for installing a program on his wife's computer that sent him logs of who she was talking to and what sites she visited. In 2011, a Minnesota court found that a man did not break the law when he placed a GPS tracking device on his wife's car, because it was jointly owned.

Although it's a gray area in Kansas law, McPherson says he won't use information in court collected by his clients through GPS trackers.

"I think that's going to put that client in a bad light," said McPherson.

Legal or not, Angie says her situation was a clear invasion of privacy. She wants to make sure other people are aware of the apps before they too are tracked.

"There was nothing on my phone that would lead me to believe he would be able to find where I was."

ALWAYS WATCHING: Smartphones becoming a new tool for digital spying in break ups and divorces. What questions do you have about tracking apps?

Posted by Rachel Skytta on Thursday, February 1, 2018