Android iPhone and iPad

The Rise Of Smartphone Snooping & How To Check For It

Matt Smith 29-04-2011

Snooping on computers has been a problem for decades. The so-called Trojan Horse How To Get Rid Of A Trojan Horse Virus That Won't Go Away Read More , malware that gives a hacker access to a PC without the owner’s permission, has been around since the 80’s. Keyloggers are another area of concern, and have been given some attention in the popular media from time to time. But whatever you call it, snooping on a PC is an accepted risk, and one users often look out for.


But what about your smartphone? Modern devices are essentially tiny PCs that also make phone calls, and the potential negative effects of Smartphone snooping could be much worse. Smartphones transmit location data and store lists of everyone you know, along with their phone numbers. Obviously, this information shouldn’t be in the wrong hands, but what can you do to prevent Smartphone snooping?

Monitor Permissions Carefully (Android)

smartphone snooping

If you’re using an Android smartphone you’ll be presented with a list of permissions every time you install a new app (iPhone users can move on to the next section). The permissions lists, in detail, the functions the app is looking to access on your phone. They range from fairly innocuous things such as SD card read/write access to more ominous features like the ability to read and edit your contacts.

I’d like to have a fast-and-easy rule for permissions, but there isn’t one. My best advice is to make sure the permissions make sense for the app. An app that enhances your contacts will obviously need access to contact data. That makes sense. But it might not make sense for the app to have access to your precise GPS location Google Maps Is the Only Simple Tourist Guide App You Need If you're traveling, you need the GPS-enabled features that Google Maps provides. Here are just a few of them that help you find the best joints around any town. Read More , unless there is some feature that requires it. If you’re hesitant, but you really want the app, try checking out the developer’s website or contacting the developer directly. Many will provide you with the reasons why their app needs various permissions.

Don’t assume that an app is on the level just because it is popular. Pandora, for example, was recently accused of acquiring data about users (including location, birthday and sex) via its app and then sending that data to ad servers.

Use A Data Monitor

detect smartphone snooping

One of the most obvious indications that something may be seriously wrong with your smartphone’s security is a sudden increase in data usage. Theoretically, malware and other Smartphone snooping software can do all sorts of things with your device without your knowledge. One recent proof of concept suggests that smartphone botnets could be just around the corner.

A data monitor can help you keep tabs on your data usage. There are too many such apps to do an in-depth review of them here. Personally, I like the RadioOpt Traffic Monitor for Android, but your mileage may vary.

It’s also wise to occasionally check your data usage through your carrier. Although a traffic monitor should discover any problems, it always possible that a threat could find a way to disguise itself. You should also consider an SMS text message monitor, if one is available for your mobile OS.

Install A Remote Phone Tracker & Data Nuker

detect smartphone snooping

As I’ve mentioned when discussing laptop security, physical theft of a mobile device can be a real security issue. Smartphones are even worse, because they’re easy to lose track of, and most users don’t even protect their device with a passphrase. It would be trivial for someone to access data on a phone once they have the physical phone.

However, smartphones do have an advantage over laptops. Virtually all of them have GPS, which means that it is easy to obtain the precise location of the device if it goes missing but remains turned on. In addition, smartphones have data connections that are always on unless specifically turned off, which means it is easy to send a remote wipe command.

There are multiple Android apps that offer this functionality – we recently looked at one example, called Mobile Defense Mobile Defense - A Free Mobile Phone Tracking System [Android] Read More . Apple’s iPhone offers similar functionality through the Find My iPhone Find Your Lost Or Stolen iPhone, iPad Or iPod Touch with Find My iPhone Read More feature.

Consider An Antivirus App

smartphone snooping

The antivirus field for mobile devices is still immature. Apple doesn’t even allow antivirus software on the iPhone, while Android’s antivirus market is saturated with lots of apps, many of which have frankly questionable credentials.

Even so, a quality antivirus app could have some use. At the very least, it should be able to point out phone settings that  could compromise your security, and many antivirus apps bundle phone trackers as well. Antivirus should also be very effective, at least theoretically, because the app market used on mobile devices serves as a gateway to software. This makes it harder for malware to reintroduce itself into the app ecosystem once it is discovered.

The problem is that no one seems to know how to test these mobile antivirus apps yet. There’s no definitive, objective source providing data on mobile antivirus effectiveness. Also, mobile devices – Android in particular – are ripe for fakeware attacks. Fakeware is a so-called antivirus program that actually is spyware or malware, but fools users by providing fake reports claiming the app has found and addressed security threats. I suggest doing a lot of research on any antivirus app before installing it.


Smartphone security is a topic that has just recently become an issue. As smartphones become more powerful and popular the malware targeting them will certainly increase. That’s just the way of security – if something is worth stealing, someone will probably try to steal it.

Don’t take this as scaremongering, however. The steps above will help protect you, and with vigilance, you should be able to side-step any problems.

Explore more about: Online Privacy, Spyware.

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  1. Ricardo Giménez
    August 28, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for providing these type of information. I have been around computers since the 60's. But in the last 20 years there is been so many changes in technology and at such speed that is tough to keep up with. The computer languages that I learned in college, most people in the industry have no idea what cobol or Fortran mean. I have done software for mini computers and they were in the market for a blink of an eye. Supposed universities professors that are younger than 50 years old, I will to bet they don't know what those words mean. I was forced to learn PCs for work, I used to be better with Apple computers, I paid on early 90's $16,000.00 for my first computer set up; the monitor was used, so was the printer. I bought 20mb for the computer at $100.00 per Mega bytes, MBs, not gigs. That's how long I have been around computers. My title now a days is Computer Structured Network Engineer.... But I had an accident on 2008 and neck surgery on 2009 and I am bed all day and only get up to go to the bathroom. And in a blink of an eye, I am a dinosaur.... I know, supposedly there is two languages, Android and Apple, I don't even know if the new Google pixel has an Android or not. I called tier 3 of motorola and they told me that they couldn't help me to remove apps that I don't want or need, according to them that's impossible. So the so call engineer told me that what I wanted to do was impossible. So now at 58 years old I have to learn Android, ridiculous.... So all this bla, bla, is just to say THANK YOU, I am not a dumbass, and the story is so you understand that my thanks comes from someone that appreciates your help and time; and not just dummy that wants to play with fire....

  2. DQ
    March 18, 2015 at 2:04 am

    I have had this happen twice. I get a notice that something has "snooped" me. One disturbing time my phone acutally took a picture of me while I was sleeping ( the phone was laying on the night stand and the picture was as if the camera was directly in front of me.) Any thoughts on this?

  3. Trinimatic
    May 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    can i know if my smart phone is tapped

    • M.S. Smith
      May 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      Tapped? As in, someone listening to your calls?

      Well, you can try running an antivirus or monitoring your data usage, since theoretically any malware recording your calls might be visible that way. But besides that, I really don't know.

    • martha velasco
      April 28, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Can someone post a check in on my phone

  4. JMontes
    May 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    this is kinda offensive. I dont like being monitored.

  5. spanky
    May 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    This article is fail. if you were going to mention anti virus software or even bring up this article. WHY wouldn't touch apon the applications best used to protect yourself such as LOOKOUT mobile defense currently free and scans all applications before you install

    • M.S. Smith
      May 2, 2011 at 3:23 am

      I already explained this.

      "The problem is that no one seems to know how to test these mobile antivirus apps yet. There’s no definitive, objective source providing data on mobile antivirus effectiveness."

      I agree, Lookout seems pretty cool. But is it really effective as an antivirus? Does it really do a good job of stopping threats? Beats me. There's no one doing in-depth, objective testing, so that's unknown.

      Until someone begins to do that, making any statements about the effectiveness of a particular antivirus app is pointless.

      BTW, if you do know some source that's testing antivirus app effectiveness, let me know. I'd love to see it. It would certainly make writing about smartphone security easier.

  6. Noone
    April 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    If you're worried about privacy and controlling the security of your smart phone, star android bug 3778 which is from users requesting the ability to control what permissions an application has. e.g. Pandora wants my addressbook, just uncheck it and your addressbook is safe. Google has specifically chosen to abuse its users and not give them this security:

  7. Noone
    April 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    If you're worried about privacy and controlling the security of your smart phone, star android bug 3778 which is from users requesting the ability to control what permissions an application has. e.g. Pandora wants my addressbook, just uncheck it and your addressbook is safe. Google has specifically chosen to abuse its users and not give them this security: