The naked (and frightening) truth about the highly effective Boyfriend Tracker app

Aug 26, 2013 at 10:35 AM ET

Who needs the NSA when we have each other? Google has just removed an app called Rastreador de Namorados (Portuguese for “Boyfriend Tracker”) from its store after tens of thousands of Brazilians downloaded it.

The now-deceased godsend for suspicious-to-the-point-of-cray-cray lovers worked like this: First, you find one moment alone with your significant other’s smartphone, during which time you download the app (it’s supposedly invisible to your honey). Then you can remotely monitor his or her every movement with GPS tracking and receive duplicates of every text message sent or received (not creepy at all). And if that doesn’t quell the suspicions that caused you to download an app called Boyfriend Tracker, you can force the target phone to silently call you (think butt dial) so you can listen in on what your boo is saying or hearing. (We’d like to note that said boo could be male or female. Unless you want to hold on to the notion the app creators embraced here: Only women get cray-jealous, and only men cheat.)

Google reportedly removed the app in response to complaints about privacy abuses and its potential to be used for extortion or (duh) stalking. In response to the news that it was being axed (which, for those outside of Brazil, was news it even existed), Twitter users got on their high horses to blast anyone who would think of using such a thing. “Communication is the cornerstone of any strong relationship,” everyone seems to be saying. “That is, unless you’re fucking cheating on me, in which case, I will cut you.”  

Oh, the selves we present on Twitter. They are righteous, honest and trusting—clean as the driven snow. If the conversation on social media was representative, Boyfriend Tracker and similar apps wouldn’t have a market. Obviously, there’s a market.

In 2011, London-based MTechnology LTD launched the app mSpy, which had 1 million subscribers as of July 31, according to the company. The app allows users to monitor and track the call logs, emails, text messages, browsing history, social networks and, OK, just about everything on Android or iOS devices, including tablets. It even records keystrokes, so its users can see what their girlfriend/son/employee is typing. Once the app is downloaded onto a stalkee’s phone, the stalker’s work is done.

“[The initial download] is the only time when you need the physical access to the target phone,” the company’s website states. “mSpy is 100% undetectable and you will be able to view the phone details captured by this software from any web browser.”

While the app is mainly marketed to parents of teenagers, it is possible to get your super-paranoid-on fairly inconspicuously with mSpy—though the company makes certain to state in their terms and conditions that to do so without informing the owner of the monitored phone would be illegal. The disclaimer helps mSpy jump over a hurdle that the Tokyo-based developer Manuscript hit head on, with subsequent bruising.

In 2011, Manuscript launched an app called Kare Log (which translates to “Boyfriend Log”), with a pink sparkly interface. The app allowed “girlfriends” to track smartphone GPS data, call histories and remaining battery life (which is a way of fact-checking claims of “my phone died,” we guess—Jeez, people).

The complaints started coming in (around 60, according to Manuscript) the day the app was released—from concerned cheaters, sure, but also from the Japanese government, which was specifically concerned that the app could be used without consent, violating privacy laws. Manuscript backtracked, adding a screen icon that shows a phone owner when he or she is being monitored.

There is less of a market for stalking-with-consent apps. That involves people asking their partners if they are willing to be stalked, which is almost as intimidating as asking if they are (in fact) blowing lines off strippers every Tuesday—or, you know, trusting them. Actual confrontation is hard. Much harder than stalking (thanks, technology).

The Boyfriend Tracker got a rise out of people because it laid bare who and what we really are: über-connected, technologically advanced people who are utterly terrified of actually talking to one another. Go figure.