June 23, 2022

Using Spy Apps: Everything You Need to Know

Using phones to monitor someone’s activity and behavior is nothing new. If you’ve ever read about the heyday of the CIA or Nixon’s Watergate scandal, you’ve heard of bugging devices hidden in lampshades and drawers.

While technology has evolved dramatically over the past fifty years, some core uses have not. Spy apps are the modern-day version of using tech to collect hidden information.

Here’s everything you need to know about using spy apps on smartphones.

What are Spy Apps?

As the name implies, spy apps are programs that run in the background of a device— typically a smartphone— that collects usage data and transmits it to a remote user.

Different types of spy apps capture different data points, depending on the program. The simplest spy apps show a device’s location at any given time with GPS, similar to location sharing. More elaborate and sophisticated apps do everything from recording keystrokes to recording phone calls.

Why People Use Spy Apps

There’s plenty of controversy surrounding the use of spy apps on smartphones. While some use them to discover if a partner is unfaithful, there are also less controversial reasons people use these apps.

One of the most common reasons for using spy apps is for parents to monitor children. Some parents are open about the phone being monitored, using this feature as a part of the agreement for allowing their child to own a phone. Other parents install these apps when they’re concerned about their child, trying to pinpoint a shift in behavior related to drugs or even trauma.

Employers will sometimes use monitoring apps on company phones as well. Generally, there’s a policy that tells employees their company devices will be monitored. When accepting the company device, it’s important to understand this possibility, even if they use of a spy app isn’t stated outright. This feature helps employers determine whether employees are using the device inappropriately.

In more serious scenarios, employers might use these devices to determine if an employee is engaged in nefarious behavior— i.e., defrauding the company. Data collected from spy apps generally aren’t admissible in court and could lead to a bigger legal battle. Still, it can help an employer determine whether additional investigative steps have merit.

Features to Look for in a Spy App

As mentioned above, not all spy apps are created the same. Choosing the right app for a mobile device ultimately comes down to your intentions. Here are some key factors to consider when looking into a spy app.

OS Compatibility

When choosing a spy app, the first consideration is compatibility with both your phone and the phone you’re monitoring. IOS and Android are two completely different operating systems (OS), and an app that works well on an iPhone isn’t necessarily the best spy app for Android.

Determine what OS compatibility you require before considering any other feature.

Ease of Installation

Another essential consideration is the ease of installation. There are several spy apps that can be installed remotely. However, they’re not always reliable and sometimes require very specific scenarios. Remote-installation spy apps can also be costly.

Most spy apps require you to have access to the device. If this is the case, it’s integral to determine how long the app takes to download. Ideally, you’ll look for an app that takes no more than a minute to install.


It seems counterintuitive to worry about security when installing a spy app, but it should be a concern. Your goal is to capture information, not to destroy the device by opening access to malware and data breaches. If these issues occur, you could lose access to the phone. Furthermore, you might experience infiltration on your own devices.

Look for an encrypted app that prioritizes cybersecurity and data protection.


Consider your goals for installing a spy app. What information do you want to capture? You might only be interested in reading browsing history or call logs. Alternatively, you might want real-time access to text and social media messages.

Determine what features you require, then look for a trustworthy app that offers those benefits.


While there are free apps available, they tend to be low quality and incredibly easy to detect. Many sophisticated spy apps offer a free trial to see what you’re getting for your hard-earned money. High-quality monitoring apps come at a price, but it’s still important to find something affordable that suits your budget.

When considering the price, it’s also beneficial to determine whether there’s tech support available.

How to Tell if Your Phone has a Spy App

Reading about installing spy apps tends to make people feel slightly paranoid about their own devices. Here are some common signs that a spy app has been installed on your phone.

Increased Data Usage

If you notice increased data usage but can’t think of a reasonable explanation, it’s worth looking into the cause. Look at your phone settings and determine which applications use the most data. Determine whether the cause is an app you’ve been using more or something inexplicable.

Battery Draining Quickly

Some apps are brutal on battery use, including spy apps. These applications are constantly working to monitor activity, which can be a big power draw.

Decreased battery lifespan and increased data usage often go hand-in-hand, indicating the presence of malware or a spy app. However, this issue is also common in older phones. Consider taking your phone in for a scan if you have this problem.

Another issue that goes with batteries draining quickly is an overheated device. If your phone starts getting overheated, even when not in use, there’s a problem.

Unexplained Activity

If your phone is lighting up or you’re not seeing notifications for new texts and messages on your phone, there could be a spy app installed. You might also notice that your microphone or camera indicator light switches on without prompting. If so, head into your camera and microphone settings to see which apps have access.

Network Instability

Back in the day, when the CIA was at its prime, people were warned that phone tapping often resulted in clicking or distortion on the phone lines. Believe it or not, spy apps have similar effects when making a phone call. If you notice strange noises across calls to different people, there might be a spy app recording you.

Increased Usage Lag

If there’s keystroke and app monitoring on your phone, you might notice it lagging as you type or load applications. It might also take longer to shut down your phone.

Unknown Files or Apps

Finally, unknown files or apps could indicate malware or a spy app on your device. It can take time to find these apps. They’re often disguised as games or seemingly innocuous background apps that you’d never use. In other words, searching “SPY” on your phone won’t work.

Take some time to go through your apps and files and flag anything that looks suspicious. Delete those apps if possible.

Final Thoughts

There are many valid reasons to use phone monitoring apps. If you go this route, be aware of the ethics and legalities regarding your unique situation. Take the time to find an app that suits your needs, and remember to monitor your phone for suspicious activity.

About the author 

Elle Gellrich

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