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Is Spyware Illegal?

Installing spying apps on someone’s mobile phone or computer without their knowledge is illegal. In most cases, it’s also illegal to record phone conversations between people without their consent. The same is true for tracking people using a GPS device. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be tracked or spied on. The Clario AntiSpy Antivirus can help you rid your device of any tracking software that might have been installed without your consent.

Table of contents

Spyware definition

Spyware is a type of malware, usually in the form of apps or software, that is used to track and monitor someone’s activity on their device remotely by sending phone data to a server where you can view it. Hackers and bad actors can infect and monitor another person’s mobile phone, tablet, or computer. Methods of infection include websites containing malicious links, phishing attacks, or fake emails.

How do spy apps work?

By their very nature, spy apps are designed to go undetected on the target device. The person being surveilled typically isn’t aware of what’s happening, so they’re monitored without their consent. The purpose is to collect your sensitive information. In most cases, this includes one or more of the following private data:

  • Banking or credit card information
  • Online account usernames
  • Online account passwords
  • Photos or videos
  • Emails or messaging apps data.

However, it also extends to things like the sites you visit, your texts/calls (both incoming and outgoing), and internet downloads. This makes spyware one of the most dangerous forms of malware out there.


There are several types of spyware, including:

  • Banking trojans
  • Password stealers
  • Keyloggers
  • Infostealers.

Spy apps are typically used by individuals to monitor other people’s internet or social media activity. This can include reading their chats. However, they can also be used by bad actors with sinister motives.


Below is a list of people who have the motivation or means to spy on your phone or laptop using spyware:

  • Ex-boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse
  • Current partner or spouse
  • Friends and former friends
  • People with whom you have disputes
  • Someone you’ve cut off
  • Hackers.

The people listed above can monitor your phone in several ways, and their motivations differ depending on who is doing the spying. For example, a scammer could spy on you to steal your funds. A hacker could spy on you to steal your identity. An ex may want to figure out if you’ve met someone new or what the nature of your relationship is with someone in your life.


According to Statista, there were 5.5 billion malware attacks worldwide in 2022 alone. This shows how widespread malware attacks like spyware are.


Here are the signs your device may be infected with spyware:

  • Your device is unusually slow
  • It crashes randomly and frequently
  • You have trouble accessing secure websites
  • You suddenly see a lot of ads pop up on your device
  • Your browser randomly redirects you to other sites.

Your phone or computer can get infected with spyware in the following ways:

  • Malicious apps. While official app stores like the App Store and Google Play vet the apps they list, malicious apps can slip through the cracks. It’s possible to download malicious apps containing spyware. Spy apps are usually marketed as parental control apps, but people use them maliciously to spy on their partners instead.
  • Security vulnerabilities. Device manufacturers regularly release system updates to help patch security vulnerabilities. If you don’t install new updates, you may be vulnerable to spyware attacks. Back doors may also be used to access your device.
  • Phishing emails. Hackers and bad actors can send you phishing emails with malicious links or attachments. As a rule of thumb, avoid engaging with emails from unknown senders.
  • Wi-Fi attacks. Likewise, hackers favor public Wi-Fi networks because they’re usually unsecured, which makes them easy to breach. That’s why it’s best to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks unless you use a VPN service.
  • Direct installation of spyware. Although uncommon, this method involves someone manually installing spyware on your phone. Anyone who has access to your phone and knows your passcode can download and install spyware on it.

Are you wondering how to know if your phone is being tracked? Spyware is built to stay under the radar for as long as possible. Unless you know where to look and thoroughly check your devices for threats often, you run the risk of having your sensitive information exposed. That’s a risk no one should take. Don’t wait until it’s too late; be proactive about protecting your device against spyware and other threats.


Use the Clario AntiSpy Antivirus tool to check for spyware and other threats on your Windows or Mac device. It’s a safe and helpful tool from the anti-spy app Clario AntiSpy that constantly checks your laptop for threats and eliminates them to protect your data and privacy. The aim is to limit the impact of viruses and malware on your device.


Follow the steps below to learn how to safeguard your smartphone using the Clario AntiSpy Antivirus tool:

  1. Download Clario AntiSpy on your computer, get a subscription, and set up an account
  2. On the home screen, click Antivirus in the sidebar
  3. Click the Start Scan button at the bottom of the window and wait for the scan to finish. Follow the on-screen prompts if any threats are found.
Clario AntiSpy dashboard showing how the Antivirus feature works on Mac

Did you know?

You can keep the Clario AntiSpy Antivirus tool enabled to protect your device 24/7, eliminating the need to switch it on every time you turn on your computer.

Is it illegal to track someone's phone?

Many people have asked themselves, is it legal to spy on someone? Is it illegal to put spyware on someone’s phone? Can you use Alexa to spy on someone? In short, yes, it’s legal to monitor someone’s phone. But hold your horses—there are caveats. It depends on the case. Additionally, different countries have different laws.


In the United States (US), it’s illegal to monitor someone’s phone without their knowledge or consent if they’re 18 years old or older. This applies to spouses using a phone you own. It’s illegal to install software that does the following on someone else’s phone without their permission:

  • Monitoring social media messages
  • Monitoring text messages
  • Monitoring calls
  • Forwarding calls
  • Recording calls.

Having said that, US law allows you to monitor your child’s cell phone as a parent or an employee’s phone as an employer. Are spy apps legal, then? Some are, like those used to keep children safe.


When spy apps are used illegally, US wiretapping laws come into play. The Wiretap Act protects individuals from digital eavesdropping. It prohibits you from monitoring audio, electronic, and wire conversations with a device without a participant’s consent. The only exception is when the interception has been authorized by law enforcement. The Wiretap Act forms part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986.


Parents, partners, exes, law enforcement, and hackers aren’t the only parties who can spy on people—companies can do it, too. According to NPR, in June 2023, Amazon was ordered to pay victims more than $30 million in fines after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found it violated privacy laws in several ways:

  • Amazon employees secretly monitored customers’ Ring door camera data
  • Amazon held onto geolocation data and recordings of children’s conversations with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, to improve its algorithm. This happened despite parents’ requests to have the recordings deleted, which means Amazon violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, (COPPA).  

But what about other people tracking you? Can someone spy on your phone without you knowing it? Absolutely. Anyone can become a victim of spyware.

Can you put a tracker on your child's phone?

You can put a tracker on a younger child’s phone, provided they are under 18 years old. Adult children aged 18 and older are entitled to privacy. As such, they’re protected by law from spying through the use of spy apps and devices.

When is it legal to put a tracker on your child's phone?

As a parent, you can monitor your child’s phone for the following reasons, provided your child is a minor (under the age of 18):

  • To monitor their social media accounts for bullying and harassment
  • To ensure they aren’t visiting mature websites
  • To protect them from online predators
  • To help protect their personal information
  • To help them protect their reputation
  • To protect them from identity theft
  • To ensure they aren’t sexting or sending nudes to other people
  • To manage their screen time.

While social media apps have parental controls, parents wanting to monitor their children’s phone activity might find it easier to do so from one place—a dedicated app. Popular parental control apps include:

  • Qustodio
  • Bark
  • Net Nanny
  • OurPact
  • Google Family Link.


You’re not obligated to notify your child that you’re tracking their phone activity. However, it’s always advisable to let them know and explain why. This will help you build trust and encourage conversations about phone and internet safety.

This approach may also reduce the chances of conflict should you chat with your child about something you’ve seen using a spying app, as opposed to them feeling like you’re invading their privacy.

When is it illegal to put a tracker on your child's phone?

It’s illegal to spy on your child’s phone activity when they’re 18 years old or older because they’re entitled to privacy. The only exception is if they give you explicit consent to monitor their phone.

Is it legal to track your spouse's phone?

Installing spyware on your spouse’s phone is easier than installing it on a stranger’s phone due to how accessible it is, especially if you know their passcode.


Spouses monitor each other’s phones for several reasons, like suspicion of infidelity and to help strengthen divorce cases. But is it legal to snoop around your spouse’s phone? Well, it depends.

When is it legal to track a spouse's phone?

It’s only legal to monitor your spouse’s phone if they give you consent. However, this can be difficult to obtain. For example, a wife may share her location with her husband so that he can track her at any given time for safety reasons. This would be considered monitoring, not spying as such. However, given that spying is done in secret, it’s unlikely for a spouse to agree to be spied on using an app.


While some couples share passwords, this mostly applies to streaming services and other areas or accounts that aren’t private.


A CyLab study found that people granted their romantic partners access to the following types of accounts:

  • 48% shared their entertainment and streaming accounts, like Netflix and Hulu
  • 39% shared their finance-related account details, including online banking and insurance
  • 34% shared their lifestyle-related accounts, including online shopping sites
  • 19% shared their information and learning accounts, such as news sites
  • 7% shared their social accounts, including social media and email.

The study found that individuals who shared their accounts with romantic partners were motivated by one or more of the following reasons:

  • To maintain their relationship
  • To help maintain the household
  • To build trust
  • For convenience.

Even though the statistics prove that people are comfortable sharing their private information with romantic partners, unless you have your spouse’s approval, you shouldn’t go through their phone.


For all intents and purposes, it’s never legal to spy on your spouse’s phone without their permission.

When is it illegal to track a spouse's phone?

It’s illegal to track your spouse’s phone if they haven't given you permission to do so, whether you’re touching your husband’s or your wife’s phone. No matter how justified you believe your actions are, spying is never an option, and you should steer clear of it to stay on the right side of the law.


If you have any concerns surrounding your spouse’s phone activity, it’s best to find healthy ways to raise them. Consider talking to your spouse about whatever the root cause of your concerns or trust issues may be.


A therapist or marriage counselor could help you find the best way to approach your partner and work through those issues positively. However, it might not be easy, and you may not get your way because your partner is, after all, entitled to their own privacy.


If you have a feeling your partner may be cheating and want to gather evidence from their phone, speak with a lawyer regarding the legal ramifications of cyberspying. They’ll help you carve a way forward without breaking the law. If you suspect your partner is doing something illegal on their phone, contact the police.

Consequences of using spy apps illegally

Spying on your partner’s phone can put a dent in your relationship and yield the following results:

  • A lack of trust between you and your spouse
  • Conflict
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fighting
  • Separation
  • Isolation
  • Divorce.

But that’s the least of it. If you’re found guilty of tracking someone’s phone, you could face legal consequences as per the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). You can be convicted for attempting to access someone’s phone or successfully intercepting it. The law also applies whether you distribute the contents or information on their phone or not, as long as it was illegally obtained.


Below are the charges you can face for snooping around on someone else’s phone and the associated punishment in the US.

ChargesPotential punishment
Intent to wiretapYou could spend a maximum of five years in prison or be fined a maximum of $250,000 as an individual perpetrator. Organizations face a harsher penalty, as they can be fined a maximum of $500,000.
Possession of Unlawful Wiretapping EquipmentYou stand to spend a maximum of five years in prison. Individuals can be fined a maximum of $250,000, while organizations can be fined a maximum of $500,000.
Disclosure of Information Obtained by Unlawful WiretappingYou face up to five years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000. Organizations can be fined a maximum of $500,000

While other countries don’t have laws specific to spy apps, they, too punish perpetrators who infringe on other people’s privacy by spying on their online activities and communications.


For instance, in Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is a federal privacy legislation that makes it illegal for organizations to collect or use people’s private information without their approval or knowledge. Organizations that fail to comply may be fined a maximum of CAD 100,000.


In the United Kingdom (UK), the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 protects people from all forms of harassment, including stalking. This act may be used to charge and prosecute perpetrators. People who violate the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 face the following punishments:

  • Imprisonment for a maximum of six months
  • A fine of the maximum of level 5 on the standard scale.

In some cases, offenders may be punished using both methods listed above. While the penalty for violating the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 law in the UK seems lighter than those in the US and Canada, it would still impact your life somehow. Additionally, the legal procedures involved can take a toll on your mental and emotional state and put a dent in your finances, so it’s not worth taking the risk.


You may have wondered whether it’s legal to stalk someone using an app or whether it has any ramifications, and rightfully so. We live in an age where the lines can easily be blurred, thanks to social media, and boundaries can be crossed. However, it’s illegal to spy on others using an app, including your spouse and kids who are 18 and older — even if they live in your home.


The only exception is if the person gives you permission to install a spy app on your phone. Unless they’re comfortable with it or you’re quite convincing, don’t get your hopes up. Put yourself in their shoes—if the roles were reversed, would you permit someone to install a spy app on your phone? Always respect other people’s privacy the same way you’d expect them to respect yours. Use the Clario AntiSpy to protect your device from spyware and other stalkerware on a basic level and reduce the chance of threats occurring.

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