- Large social media coverage
- Keylogging and screenlogging
- Block websites
- View photo and video files
- Security concerns
- Encourages jailbreaking/rooting phones
When does parental control software turn into spying software? The answer is when it’s mSpy, a company that presents itself as a parental control software, but the clue is in the name. We’ll get into the troubling undertones later, but for now we’ll treat it at face value – parental control software with concerned parents in mind. Based in the UK and now with offices in New York, mSpy has been in business since 2010. The service has some startlingly thorough monitoring, with the ability to see interactions from a large number of the major social media networks including reading messages from Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. mSpy is also able to track a phone’s GPS to see its exact location, users are able to set up select areas where their children are allowed to go, and mSpy will notify you if they stray from that location. It’s difficult to find on its website, but mSpy does offer a free seven-day trial so you can see just how comprehensive its features are.
Installing mSpy isn’t the easiest thing to do, providing you want to use all of its features which requires the user to jailbreak the iOS device or have the Android phone rooted. We’ll go into this in further detail later on. Installation does require the user to have the target’s device at hand to install its app which isn’t available on Google Play or Apple stores, so you’ll have to download directly from the mSpy website. Once you’ve finished the setup, you’ll be able to start monitoring with data taking only a matter of minutes to appear. While it may not be the prettiest, the mSpy dashboard functions well with everything in a logical place.
The call logs are able to show you the caller’s ID, whether the call was incoming or outgoing, the call duration (or if it was missed), and even the exact date and time of the call from before mSpy was installed – it’s a similar case for text messages, with parents able to read full SMS messages that were already on the device. Parents will also be able to see any photo or video files stored on the phone and view the calendar’s upcoming events.
The GPS tracking is impressive, with mSpy being able to pinpoint our exact location perfectly. The geofencing tool is easy to set up, although the map is slow to load at times, and parents can’t set notifications when a child enters or leaves a particular zone.
mSpy’s internet monitoring shows parents when a website was accessed, and how often a child visited it – while there are limits for iOS, the Android version is able to do this regardless of which browser is used. Parents also have the ability to block specific websites but what mSpy should look at including in the future is a content filter to prevent children from accessing certain types of websites that are inappropriate.
Of course, the main selling point of mSpy is the ability to read messages sent over Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, and a whole host of other services. This will require jailbroken or rooted phones but it’s an incredible amount of data that parents can see so they’ll immediately know what exactly their children are up to or if they’re victims of cyberbullying. One major concern we have about mSpy is that it has suffered two serious data breaches in recent years that have included passwords, call logs, and location data being leaked. The data has since been removed but hopefully mSpy has now boosted its security.
mSpy as Spyware
So now we get to the elephant in the room: mSpy can easily be used and abused for spying purposes. The company itself admits that only 40% of its clientele are parents, another 15% are employers keeping tabs on employees, and the rest use it for ‘other’ reasons. It’s not hard to see why people will find mSpy when looking for spyware, with a name like mSpy while constantly rereferring to the monitored person as a ‘target’. The mSpy website, which frequently uses the word spy, does at least have the veneer of a parental control service with stock images of children. However, the mSpy official blog includes customer reviews extolling the app’s spying capabilities and how they were able to catch a cheating spouse by illegally spying on them. mSpy also had to remove its ability to record conversations, take secret photos, and ambient surroundings from phones to avoid any legal complications in the U.S. since that could count as illegal surveillance that would even make the NSA blush.
The main feature of mSpy is the ability to read messages from a variety of different social media apps. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Tinder are covered as well as other apps like Skype, Kik, and more. mSpy can read through all instant messages and group chats and see who your child is talking to. Self-destructing messages on Telegram and vanishing images on Snapchat aren’t able to hide from mSpy. If a parent doesn’t want their child using an app, like Tinder for example (since this only available for those over 18 anyway), then they’ll have the option of blocking the app remotely. Be warned though, this option can’t be undone afterwards.
One major drawback to using mSpy with cell phones is that Android phones need to be rooted and iOS devices need to be jailbroken for the software to work to its full potential. Doing this is a tricky process but for a fee you can get live assistance from mSpy’s customer service. It should be noted that this will likely mean voiding the warranty on your phone.
If, understandably, you don’t want to jailbreak your phone then your monitoring powers are significantly reduced but mSpy does its best to offer as many features as possible for those users. iOS devices that aren’t jailbroken will however need access to iCloud details to continue monitoring whereas Android devices won’t be able to monitor any non-default apps. It should be noted one account monitors only one device and to monitor another one will require a further subscription.
Due to the nature of its services, mSpy isn’t the cheapest option for parental control around. Users have the choice of three different accounts: basic, premium, and family. If you want to save as much money as possible then a yearly subscription of mSpy basic at $99.99 a year, which works out at just $8.33 a month, is the most economical option but naturally lacks some of the major features. mSpy also comes with a free seven-day trial to make sure it’s suitable for you before you commit.
The basic version of mSpy doesn’t monitor social media, allow blocked applications, or include geofencing as well as other things you’ll only find in the premium version. The premium version, naturally, has all of mSpy’s capabilities at a greater price. If you don’t want to jailbreak or root your phone, then you’re better off choosing the basic package. Finally, the family version has everything you’ll find with mSpy premium but is available to cover up to three devices.
mSpy accepts payment from all major credit cards including Discover, as well as wire transfers. It’s worth nothing that if you sign up for mSpy’s seven-day trial then you must remember to cancel your account before that trial expires to prevent yourself from being charged for a full subscription. All purchases come with a 14-day money-back guarantee but it’s worth reading mSpy’s refund policy first to make sure you won’t be excluded from it.
mSpy has tiered levels of support and you will have to pay more for the second and third levels. The first level of support gives you a help section, email support, and a live chat – we found that the live chat replies very quickly. The second level allows for a phone call and the top level is called mAssistance, and it includes help with installation through Team Viewer for Android users, as well as special assistance in jailbreaking or rooting.
The FAQ and user guides for mSpy are a mixed bag. They’re infrequently updated to the extent that they still include guides for long discontinued desktop versions of mSpy, but those that are relevant are crystal clear for new users despite frequent spelling mistakes.
It’s hard to think of a parental control software that is able to monitor as thoroughly as mSpy does where parents can see exactly what their children are saying and who they’re talking to. However, mSpy is a very expensive service especially when compared to other parental controls and can easily become malicious in irresponsible hands, but we’re especially concerned about how safe its data is, after having customers’ data leaked twice in recent years. If used correctly though, mSpy is one of the most powerful parental control tools on the market and users will certainly be able to keep track of their children online, and offline, at all times.
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