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Me and my girlfriend are using an app that takes the access of your partners phone camera, then clicks the image & sends image back to requester. After fiddling with it, we are planning to launch a similar app(globally) under our own brand. But again, if we take 'consent' from the second party, mentioning that your partner will be able to have the access of your smartphone camera to fetch pictures and to send it back to your partners, can raise a legal issue for us?

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  • Who lists them as Spy app? And what does it spy on?
    – PMF
    Oct 11 at 12:36
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    Laws vary around the world depending on the country, province, state, principality etc. If you want a specific answer then please consider adding the relevant jurisdiction tag.
    – Rick
    Oct 11 at 12:38
  • 1
    This sounds a lot like you're asking for legal advice for your particular situation. Oct 12 at 1:21
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    this is the camera equivalent of a keylogger. Highly suspicious and reeks of spyware/malware. I'd not want it or anything like it on my phone or tablet, and I'd hope the appstores reject the app for violating their guidelines.
    – jwenting
    Oct 12 at 6:44
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    @nick012000 and those too are questionable in the extreme. I've seen certification exams where they want to have fulltime access to your webcam and microphone for the duration of the exam in lue of having some person there with you. Kinda understandable but still fishy (and a definite security risk) which is why I don't accept such requirements and opt to head out to a physical location instead. You never know what's left behind to spy on you by such systems.
    – jwenting
    Oct 12 at 8:39
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Of course, remote access tools and remote administration can be legitimate. But such tools also have substantial potential for abuse. You as the app provider might have a responsibility for ensuring security and safety of your system. In particular:

  • consider whether other mechanisms are more appropriate for sharing pictures, e.g. a messenger app
  • the user should always be aware when access is active, for example by requiring user interaction for starting a session during which access is allowed, and by showing a persistent notification while access is active
  • the user should be able to withdraw access at any time
  • before starting the session, the user should be informed about potential risks so that they can give informed consent
  • the shared content should likely be protected via end-to-end encryption

Scenarios that should be impossible, or at least prevented with reasonable safeguards:

  • An attacker suspects their partner of cheating. The attacker installs a remote access tool on their partner's device and starts tracking it. Clearly, the partner being tracked will not have given consent here.
  • A “tech support” scammer tricks the victim into installing the remote access tool and uses it to guide the victim into transferring money.

Why you should care about such issues:

  • If your app enables criminal acts, and you did not take reasonable precautions to prevent this, you might have some degree of liability.
  • Apps that can be used as spy apps are likely to ran afoul of app store guidelines that you would like to distribute your app through.
  • If you market your app in Europe, your app may only access information on the end user's device with the user's consent. Many of the safeguards suggested above (prior information, keeping the user fully aware of what is happening, making it easy to revoke access, no surreptitious tracking, no misleading users) are essential for obtaining valid consent. You as the app provider would need consent since you would act as the service provider / data controller.
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  • "Of course, remote access tools and remote administration can be legitimate." For instance, parental control apps.
    – nick012000
    Oct 12 at 7:06
  • @nick012000 "But such tools also have substantial potential for abuse." For instance, parental control apps.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 12 at 10:32
  • @IMSoP Just because Apple removes them from their store doesn't mean that they aren't legal, because the parents can consent to the spying on behalf of the children.
    – nick012000
    Oct 12 at 11:28
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    @nick012000 I didn't say they aren't legal, or that they're always wrong. I just said that like all software in this category, parental control apps have potential for abuse, and that was the first article I found to give an example. Another which is frequently discussed is whether conservative parents should have the right to monitor and control a teenager's access to relationship education, such as LGBT support.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 12 at 11:31
  • Parental control apps are extremely dodgy anyway. I question whether parents trying to control what their children see is usually helpful for the purposes for which these applications are advertised.
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 12 at 16:00

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