Is your iPhone being silently stalked?

A conversation turned spooky when I was asked what sort of tools could run on an iPhone to show location awareness without the person seeing a running application.  I blew this thought off as applications on the iPhone do not run in the background.

Well an invite I received today for Stalqer changed that whole theory.  The URL invite came from a Facebook friend with and clicking it asked me immediately to launch iTunes and install the application.  So the hunt was on.  many of you know I also run the site SocialStalking, so I took particular interest in this.

The application relies on you being connected to the person via Facebook and will even attempt to gather their location without them loading the app or having an iPhone.  It pulls recent postings, notes, pictures and whatever else it can on the person to help guess or establish their location.  If they have the application on their iPhone, it runs utilizing email services.

What transpires, is that the iPhone will automatically check for email about every fifteen (15) minutes or so.  When this happens, the Stalqer application takes the email connection it makes and attempts to locate where you are when connecting based on GPS, cell tower or wifi connectivity.

From there you are able to see where others are on a map and even some augmented reality.  While they have privacy controls that allow you to protect who sees your location and to what level, the unsuspecting person would not have any idea it was there.  Quite the spy tool for someone stalking someone that had access to their iPhone/iTunes to load the application.

Compliments of TechCrunch

Compliments of TechCrunch

This is different from all other location based services and games, such as Brightkite/FourSquare/Loopt and others in that those requir you to launch into the application and check yourself in.  Stalqer is a means to have a built in task (email) show where you are every 15 minutes down to a very pinpointed level.

The social graph of your friends is the deciding factor of who sees the data itself.  If the person is not on your Facebook friend list, they cannot see the application data.

However the remainder stands true also.  If they are on your friend list, have had access to your iPhone and are now in some flux level of friendship, or a bit nuts, I would make sure you are aware what mail services are running and what applications have been installed.

While location services are fast becoming the hot topic of 2010, from a strong appearance in 2009, it can be turned quickly against someone as well in forms of advertising and real life stalkers.

  • Otto

    The Stalqer email checking approach is inaccurate as heck.

    Your iPhone cannot run the Stalqer application and retrieve GPS information on a background timer, even via this email thing.

    Instead, they get your IP address from the connection you make to their servers, then use that information to determine which cell phone tower zone you're in (via which gateways your packets travel through). Thus, they can get your location in a fairly wide area based on your IP, but it's limited to that. They can't get real pinpoint info unless you launch the application yourself.

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  • Name

    Otto is correct.

    Stalqer is a troll, not a real functioning app. They are trying to focus attention on privacy/creepiness issues (1.5 even adds 'playback' of location) to divert attention from the fact that (a) almost no-one uses it and (b) those who do, don't like it (see app ratings, which are abysmal) and (c) it just plain isn't going to work at a technical level.

    Stick a fork in it, it's done.

  • Mick Johnson


    Firstly, thanks for the well-written article. Your analysis on our differentiation from other players in this space was fairly spot on, although I note you didn't mention Latitude on the Android platform which has a similar technology.

    I believe you misunderstand an important point – our background tracking system is both obvious to the user, and requires an explicit opt-in.

    If you ever switch from one email account to another on your iPhone or iPod Touch, it's impossible to miss – you will have another email account there called “Stalqer offline location”. We do not hijack existing mail accounts or connections, indeed there is no way to do so.

    Some people are fine with broadcasting their every move to the world, some restrict it to a small group of friends, and some prefer complete privacy. We deliberately chose the name “Stalqer” to empower users to make an intelligent choice about exactly the privacy concerns you raise.

    Mick Johnson

  • IdoNotes

    You are right, Otto makes some good points. I think there is a niche market that uses it and will continue, but Latitude has a long way to go also in adoption. FourSquare and BrightKite are leading by a long shot.

  • IdoNotes

    Mick, thanks for stopping by. I mentioned Latitude but the adoption rate is still quite low as they do not offer the “gaming” and added features that drive people to FourSquare and Brightkite. The idea of pictures, notes, mayorships and more is enticing since it is also a free service.

    As for the email account, I took into consideration that most of the average users only know they have the ability for one email account. So installing it in the background is quite easy and it never receives mail to give off alerts. A perfect stalking tool. Where as you would see other items on devices like Blackberry and Android that can have apps running all the time.

    I was more concerned with people putting this on someones elses phone than on their own.