The arrest of Hammad Akbar, CEO of InvoCode, marks the first ever case involving the advertising and sale of mobile spyware.
Akbar, who hails from Lahore, Pakistan, was nabbed together with his co-conspirators in Los Angeles last week. He is said to have created, advertised and sold the StealthGenie app, designed to record conversations and monitor email, photos and calendars without the knowledge of the target user.
StealthGenie, which is compatible with the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, is an undetectable app.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Andrew McCabe alleges that the app equips potential stalkers and criminals by providing them with access to invade a person's private communications.
"They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims' phones and illegally tracking an individual's every move. As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge," said McCabe.
The person who purchases the app would only need a physical control on the phone when installing it. Once installed, they can begin to monitor the phone remotely.
InvoCode markets the app as a smart way for parents to keep track of their children. It is also marketed as a way to monitor cheating spouses. The "Platinum" version of the app is sold at prices that range from $100 to $200 a year.
"The fact that it's running in surreptitious mode is what makes it so foul," said Cindy Southworth of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "They work really hard to make it totally secretive."
Akbar is indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for the advertising and sale of StealthGenie. In a court filing, Akbar contended that any legal issues of the case should be limited to the users of the app and should not extend to the maker.
"When the customer buys the product, they assume all responsibility," said Akbar in an email. "We do not need to describe the legal issues."
While it is true that tracking the location of a person without consent is deemed illegal in most situations, the indictment on Akbar is mainly focused on the marketing of StealthGenie's capacity to intercept calls and other forms of communication, which is an obvious violation of the federal Wiretap Act.
Moreover, the indictment reports that there are documents that could prove that InvoCode had 65 percent of app purchases made by people who suspect infidelity from their romantic partners.