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Illegal spyware tracks smartphone users

Update: July, 14/2014 - 09:50

The Ha Noi Department of Information and Communication s has recently caught a private IT company spying on 14,140 mobile phone subscribers using the Ptracker software. Initial police investigations showed that the Viet Hong Company's malicious software used on digital devices to collect personal information was being used by wives and husbands to keep track of their partners. Viet Nam News talked to a lawyer, IT expert, psychologist and members of the public about the issue.

Dinh Doan
Dinh Doan, marriage and family counsellor and director of Psyconsult Co,Ltd

How do you evaluate the information that up to 14,000 subscribers had spyware installed on their phones without their knowledge, mostly by their partners?

Well, I'm not surprised about the number. There are different ways to monitor people, such as installing a chip on vehicles, hacking their email and other social network accounts or hiring a detective to do the job. The real number of those who are being watched must be much more than that.

I believe it shows a shortage of trust and respect in social relationships, especially between lovers and married couples.

The development of society has led to new relationships and the chance to meet new people. This has contributed to more love affairs and cheating. Figures from the Institute of Families and Gender Research under the Viet Nam Science and Society Institute show that up to 60,000 couples get divorced each year, and that figure is rising. Cheating is the second most common reason for divorce, behind conflict of lifestyle.

This has made many people doubt their partners. With the support of high-tech equipment, people are ready to spend several hundreds of thousands of dong to get to know about their partner's schedule.

Most people are aware that eavesdropping on other people's mobile phones is illegal and an invasion of privacy, but they do it anyway. Can you explain why?

I must confirm that I have never supported this act. Firstly, it is illegal. Secondly, it brings no benefits to relationships. If the act is found out, the consequences are terrible. Those who are being watched feel disrespected, hurt and angry, which can lead to negative reactions such as disputes and break-ups.

Being a psychologist, I understand that when a wife or a husband thinks their partner is acting strangely, it's understandable that they will feel anxious and want to know the truth.

Installing spyware is among the many ways to help them get out of this feeling and their partner at the right time and improve their emotional life. However, they are selecting the wrong method.

Years ago, my customers were young people who were having trouble in love.

But in recent years, many middle-aged and married people have come to me for counselling, and most have problems with their partner's love affairs.

Married woman, 28

I would not install tracking tools on my husbands phone because I believe any relationship, especially marriage, should be built on mutual trust.

I realise from the stories of many of my friends who have done this to their husbands that they are just trying to lie to themselves. Their marriages are not held up by love but by monitoring their spouses.

I also notice that these women often get distracted from work and lose their focus in life when all they want to do all day is to track the whereabouts of their husbands. It is such a waste of time. If their husbands really want to have an affair, there are so many ways to hide it, like buying another phone. I believe that you cannot rely on a simple mobile software to achieve happiness.

Single man, 23

I think that having tracking software installed on mobiles is unacceptable to most people, especially when it's put there by the people they love. The first reason is that everyone needs privacy, no matter how close you and your partner are. Secondly, men usually feel uncomfortable about being spied on, and even hate it sometimes.

There are so many things that happen in real life that can rock a relationship. They can be daily contact at work with the opposite sex or long-day business trips, for example. Even men sometimes find it hard to bear, let alone the ladies. Anything can go wrong at anytime, and no-one can be sure about it, but at least you should show trust and respect towards your partner.

In my opinion, installing spyware on mobiles is just an example of extreme suspicion and disrespect. I suggest that everyone, especially the ladies, should think about this and be rational about the issue.

Lai Hong Duong, Research and Development CEO of Thanh Giong Computer and Communications Joint Stock Company

What is tracking software?

Tracking software is not new. This kind of software has been developed and available since the birth of smartphones.

Spying software will keep track on calls and automatically record when a connection is set up. The recorded data is then upload to a server. Trackers can access the records after logging into the tracking website.

Most spyware runs on the Android system, but there are also others that can run on iOs system and jailbroken. There are dozens of spyware such as Ptracker and Cell Tracker available for download in app stores.

Technically, it is very easy and takes just a couple of minutes to install tracking software on smartphones. All you need is a smartphone that is connected to the internet via 3G or wifi.

How can users find out if their mobiles are being spied on? Is there any way to protect their mobiles from tracking software?

Unless users are technology-savvy, it is often hard to detect tracking software. However, users can regularly look for unfamiliar software on their phones, and install a quality antivirus software.

To limit the risks, users should always keep their phones to themselves and not let other people use them.

Users can also install specific software to search for spyware. If the phone does have spyware installed, users can ask the manufacturers to address the problem.

Bui Cong Thanh

Bui Cong Thanh, Managing Partner of PLF law firm, HCM City

Does the act of spying made possible by the Viet Hong Company violate the law in Viet Nam?

The right of inviolability of personal privacy including correspondence, telephone and telegrams is stated in many legal documents in Viet Nam. Regarding the issue of the Viet Hong Company which was caught spying on mobile phone subscribers with the Ptracker software, some laws were violated.

Firstly, it violated the Viet Nam 2013 Constitution, which states that information regarding personal privacy, personal secret and familial secrecy is safely protected by the law, and no-one is allowed to open or control other's correspondence, telephone, telegrams or other forms of exchange of personal information.

Secondly, it violates the Civil Law, which says that only when someone consents, other people can collect information and material on his or her private life.

Only in cases when competent State agencies require and when the law allows, can an inspection of an individual's phones, telegrams or other forms of electronic information may be performed.

Thirdly, it violates the Law on Telecommunications, which says private information transmitted through public telecommunications neworks of all organisations and individuals shall be kept confidential.

How about those who use the company's software to spy? Do they violate any legal regulations?

Based on the motivation and purposes of individuals relating to spying cases, investigators will consider elements that lead to the following crimes:

- Those who hired the Viet Hong Company to install the software to spy on mobile phone subscribers will be considered under Article 125 of the Criminal Law, which says those who appropriate letters, telegrams, telex, facsimile or other documents transmitted by telecommunications and computers shall be subject to a warning, a fine of VND1.5 million ($70) or non-custodial reform for up to one year.

- If these individuals use this personal information collected illegally by the Viet Hong Company to pay an online transaction, or to withdraw money from a bank account, such activities can be considered a crime under Article 226b of the Criminal Law. These individuals may be subject to a fine of VND3-30 million and a ban from holding certain posts from one to five years. — VNS



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