In the world of employee monitoring and tracking software, you have regular apps that offer a usual set of features like GPS monitoring while at work, performance tracking, closed messaging groups where employees can communicate and coordinate projects, time tracking features, and other similar features like blocking certain web pages.
On the other hand many apps and software come with features that can be considered too invasive like incognito agents (basically the option to install a software and run it without an employee knowing it is on their workstation or a mobile device, with the software basically working as a computer virus), live video feed showing employee workstation screens, keyloggers, monitoring keywords even in personal apps employees are using, and the ability to see into every app and program an employee is using, completely denying their privacy while at work.
Even worse, some employers might pick spying apps instead of employee monitoring solutions, with spying apps being completely undetectable in most cases while offering some pretty extreme ways to spy on workers. These apps can be installed on workstations, but lots of them are available on mobile devices. This means an employer can just install spying software on each business cell phone before it is forwarded to workers, giving employers means to see every detail their workforce does while on a workstation, or while using their business devices.
This is wrong, and isn’t something workers should put up with. In many countries laws permit proprietors to completely monitor their workers during work hours, and all the time while workers are at their workplace. On the other hand, installing spying apps on mobile devices is an extreme way to track your workforce with some apps offering very disturbing features that are worse than spying techniques seen in many dystopian movies and novels.
In this piece we want to show just how employee monitoring can go overboard and instead of being a tool that should increase productivity and efficiency, while at the same time providing companies means to locate their employees (but only during work hours), it can evolve into something completely extreme, a way to strip employees of their privacy, even during off hours.
There are many features that endanger privacy and before looking at spying apps let us see which extreme tracking features are offered by classic employee monitoring software.
Extreme tracking features offered by classic employee monitoring solutions:
1. Taking screenshots of employees’ screens, making video recordings, and offering live video feeds
While this may seem like a feature that isn’t really invasive, just imagine someone taking screenshots of your desktop every five or ten minutes. Even worse, most employee monitoring software offers video recordings, and some even offer constant live video feeds of every workstation.
Let us look at Teramind, one of the most popular employee monitoring software. They offer a “Live View & History Playback.” In other words, the software offers a live video feed of every workstation as well as other means to completely spy on each employee. There are other solutions offering similar, privacy endangering, features such as ActivTrak, or InterGuard, but Teramind is the most extreme example.
The software will record videos in case some rule (like visiting a forbidden site, or just typing a wrong keyword) is breached. On top of videos, the app will also record audio both from sound inputs and outputs. Creepy and unnecessary, the live video feed feature is something that clearly goes over the edge. But this is just the start, and you will see Teramind again in this article.
2. Invisible installs and stealth monitoring features
If you plan to monitor your workforce, at least make it all transparent. Inform workers their workstations will have the software installed on them, and inform them which actions will be monitored. Instead of offering fully transparent installations, a good deal of employee monitoring solutions offer incognito installs.
In other words, they can be installed on a computer without the knowledge of the person using that computer and from then on the program will track and monitor all activity. While some companies mention this in their list of features, ActivTrak brags about it and mentions the possibility of invisible install on the second place on its features page, just under the fact that the solution is free. And, even worse, many solutions offer invisible installs, with Teramind being among them.
On top of being able to be installed (even remotely via company servers) invisibly, many employee monitoring solutions offer stealth monitoring feature, like ActivTrak and Teramind, which can be misused in certain scenarios. Just imagine you are sick and have to work from home. In order to get the work done, you need to connect to your company server in order to access your files and workstation data. And if your company uses an employee tracking and monitoring app that offers incognito installation, your PC might end up infected with tracking software, which behaves like a virus and works in the background.
And then imagine it records what you do while you use your PC for personal interests. This can be a catastrophic assault on your privacy, especially because many solutions offer keyloggers, keyword tracking, with a couple even coming with remote desktop control. Yup, in that imaginary situation you would end up being 100 percent transparent to your employer.
Okay, keyword tracking can be very important for some companies, especially those dealing with new technologies and solutions, and having a keyword tracker can save important company data that should stay in the company.
But keyloggers, programs that record every single letter typed on a keyboard, are something else. And, here’s our old friend, Teramind, striking again. While many solutions such as Hubstaff, Interguard, and Work Examiner offer the same feature, Teramind offers the most powerful keystroke logger capable of recording every single keystroke, capable of searching through a base of potentially malicious keystrokes, capable of creating keystroke database, and much more.
This also is a clear invasion of employee privacy and is just one step over the line. As we said, keyword tracking is necessary at times, and keyword tracking doesn’t record every keystroke, it activates just in cases when an exact keyword (like confidential) is typed. Keyloggers, on the other hand, record everything and it can truly be dangerous.
In combination with live video monitoring, IM monitoring (yup, most solutions offer full monitoring of instant messaging apps), audio monitoring, and performance monitoring, keystroke loggers can create a highly toxic work environment filled with paranoia.
4. Instant Messaging app monitoring
While email monitoring is something that shouldn’t pose a big danger to privacy (after all, if you’re working you are supposed to use your business email account on your workstation) and is something that cannot be deemed as an extreme way of monitoring workforce, monitoring instant messaging apps is something completely different.
While Skype or some other app may be used as the main messaging app between employees, spying on their conversations cannot be justified by the fact that the said app is used for company-related conversations. And in the case an employee uses a third party app for private conversations such as Telegram, or Viber, IM monitoring can become a clear breach of a worker’s privacy.
As is the case with most other extreme ways of monitoring employees, most popular employee tracking solutions offer IM tracking. Even if a program doesn’t support IM monitoring directly, it can be used for monitoring IM apps by screenshots, video recordings, audio recordings, or something similar. And almost every employee monitoring app does support one of the said features.
But let us be concise and show some examples. InterGuard offers IM tracking along with conversation recording, with the platform supporting “all major messaging programs and web-based chat,” meaning that virtually any conversation can be tracked and monitored. Teramind offers even more powerful IM tracking feature that includes the ability to track any conversation (meaning that the program can track any IM app), along with keyword loggers, the creation of metadata bases, the ability to capture all chat content, and customized alerts.
This feature can see numerous misuses, making employees fear their bosses (all an administrator has to do in order for them to know if some executive is mentioned in chats, is to enter their names as keywords) instead of respecting them, which can be very bad for the general work atmosphere. And this is only one potential misuse; just imagine what an administrator, or executive with bad intentions can do with a feature this powerful.
5. Remote desktop control
One of the worst ways to show just how much you can control employees is by showing them their workstations aren’t theirs to control with remote desktop control. Alerts are fine, they are here to inform idle workers, or those who like to visit social networks a bit too much, to get back to work and chill out or visit their news feed during breaks, but having the ability to head-on overtake control over a workstation is something pretty extreme.
Not many employee tracking solutions offer this. In fact, the only one that offers a full remote desktop control, at least out of the ones we researched, is Teramind. As you can see below, the platform offers a live remote desktop control that can overtake control over a workstation immediately. This is one of the most extreme ways of employee monitoring, at least when talking about classic employee tracking and monitoring solutions.
6. Spying on employees’ mobile devices
Classic employee tracking solutions are usually limited to desktop workstations, and while some are offering extreme ways to control and track workers, they are limited to company workstations (except if workers are doing their job from home, then they can be more than problematic) and, while features mentioned above do pose a major intrusion on workers’ privacy, cannot be used during off hours.
But one employee tracking solution is borderline spying software that can be used on mobile devices (we will deal with spying apps and their ways of spying on people in the continuation of this article), and that offers some really nasty features that shouldn’t be available in software that serves a purpose of monitoring employees.
InterGuard offers a mobile app that is tamper proof (in other words, it cannot be found by looking at installed apps in your smartphone, and it cannot be detected by the OS) and that can monitor some apps that shouldn’t be monitored, even on business devices. The mobile app is available for iOS and Android and basically offers full access to a mobile device.
It can track most popular IM apps (like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp) but it can also track SMS messages, app usage, website history, and more. The app can also track user activity on Tinder and Instagram (!), and it gives administrator access to photos stored on the, let’s say infected, device as well as giving them means to view activity remotely. This isn’t something employees should install on their workers’ business cellphones since this isn’t an employee tracking software. It is, plain and simple, a spying app.
Unfortunately, on top of regular employee monitoring software, there are numerous spying apps that are available for mobile devices. While most (well, except InterGuard’s mobile spying app above) regular employee tracking solutions are either limited to desktop workstations (meaning they can be used only when a worker is using their workstation), or offer mobile apps with limited features (but not offer spying on employees), spying apps are way worse since they openly offer extreme ways to spy on people.
While they are mostly used for spying on partners, children, or other persons of interest, they can also be installed on employees’ business mobile devices meaning they can spy employees 24/7. And you should see the worst features these spy apps have to offer.
Mobile spy apps and their worst features
When talking about spying apps most us first think about mobile ones. And yes, today we will talk about them. All of our readers should know that there are numerous spying solutions for PCs, but since companies can get most spying features (like live video desktop feeds, remote desktop control, IM apps monitoring, etc.) by using most regular employee monitoring solutions, we will focus just on mobile spying apps.
There are lots of different spying apps for mobile devices, and while most iOS solutions require a jailbreak, making it pretty hard for someone install a spying app if you own an iPhone, there’s a way for them to work without a jailbreak by remotely accessing an iPhone. All the perpetrator needs is target’s iCloud account details.
So, yes, both Android and iOS are spy prone, and in the case, your company decides to spy on you by installing a mobile spying app on your business phone you can’t do anything about it. They will just install the app before handing out the phone, and the only way to get rid of the (potential since it can’t be discovered) app is performing a complete wipe of the infected device.
With a spying app employees can every single thing available with classic employee monitoring solutions, and more. And since a cell phone, even a business one, is a device we carry around with us 24/7 (well, most of us, my friend who got the app on his business device decided to keep it at home and only carries it with him when on work) meaning that having a spy app can do much more damage than having an employee monitoring software installed on workstations.
Most of these spying apps are advertised as perfect solutions for worried parents who want to know what their children do while on a smartphone or tablet. But, some of them also present themselves as perfect solutions for employers who want to know everything about their workers, which is worrying, highly worrying. Of course, there’s the good old “is my partner cheating on me” ads, but today we talk about employee tracking. Let’s see the worst and most worrying features these apps offer to users.
7. Complete communication logs
By this we mean all types of communication you can do on a smartphone. Calls, SMS messages, Instant messaging apps, social network activity, email activity, iMessages, even Blackberry PIN Messages along with BBM.
While some of them offer a classic list of features, like Mobile Spy, which provides the usual suite of spying features when it comes to communication on a smartphone such as viewing call history, getting access contacts, reading messages and email, other apps do even worse things.
Spyera, for instance, offers automatic phone call recording. Yes, they offer their users a way to listen to every phone call made on the infected device, which is extremely disturbing. Just imagine your boss having access to every phone call you made on your business phone. Since most of us use our business devices for an occasional call with friends and family, the ability to listen to every phone call made is an extreme privacy invasion.
On the other hand, we have mSpy, a spying app capable of reading messages on most popular IM apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, iMessage, Social Network, Viber, Snapchat, LINE, Telegram, and Tinder. Spyera has a neat little table showing all supported apps and brags about its ability to capture photos, smilies, stickers and shared locations.
So, yeah, if your company decides to install a spying app on your business phone get ready to say goodbye to your privacy. They will be able to spy on literally any communication form supported on a smartphone. But this is just the start.
8. VOIP calls spying
If you think you’re safe if using Viber or Skype for voice calls, you’re wrong. Spyera thought about this and offers VOIP calls spying. The app can record calls over Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Line, and Viber. So, on top of being able to track every call log, to record each and every call made on the infected device, some spy apps even offer VOIP calls recording.
9. Internet monitoring
Internet monitoring is another thing most spy apps offer, and it includes all the usual features like browsing history and bookmarks along with timestamps of when each site was visited and how much time a user visited certain sites. As we said, almost all apps provide these features, but iSpyoo has it all explained in detail on the app’s website.
You probably expected for a keylogging capability to be on the features list, and here it is. Most of the spying apps are capable of running keylogger, but only a few offer the feature on iOS. Keyloggers are able to record everything typed on a touch keyboard, and some even offer advanced features like automatic recording of typed passwords, notes, and more. Basically, every keystroke is recorded and uploaded to a web account from where perpetrator can download data and view it.
11. Geofencing alerts
Geofencing basically is an area limited by GPS coordinates that make for a closed border zone which can be easily set up by picking streets that serve as borders or just creating a zone by entering GPS coordinates.
Some apps, like Mobile Spy, offer geofencing alerts. The app lets a user to set up perimeters and to set custom alerts activating each time a spied device goes beyond the geofencing zone. Just imagine what this can do if installed on your business phone, your company can basically track you and know the moment you leave your house or working place.
12. GPS tracking
Of course, GPS tracking is here. While classic employee monitoring solutions need to have GPS tracking (the feature is handy to use during work hours, especially for businesses like moving agencies, delivery services, or real-estate businesses), spying apps offer GPS tracking unknown to a person that’s being tracked.
All of them offer the feature, to a different degree. Some offer just basic, spot tracking, others can track a device in real time and upload routes to a server, or have geofencing alerts mentioned above, and some offer full location history.
13. Remote control of the infected device along with viewing and blocking specific apps
While some apps offer remote control in the way of blocking certain apps, websites and such, TheTruthSpy offers full remote control capability. Once installed on the infected device, the app can work as a hijacker virus, stripping away control from the owner of the device and giving it to the perpetrator.
The feature means that you can lose control over your device anytime, as long as you are connected to the internet and is another feature that cannot be explained by app’s purpose of monitoring or spying since it is a full-fledged hacking feature that shouldn’t be a part of any commercial app. Some apps, like XNSpy, even offer a remote data wipe, meaning your phone could get bricked all of a sudden, losing all data, apps, videos, messages, music, everything.
Further, most apps can let users see all apps installed on the infected device, with allowing for the apps to be blocked or deleted.
14. Access to calendar, notes, and reminders
Spyzie offers their potential users a way to know all about victim’s calendar activities, to real-time follow their calendar, so they know once a new entry is taken, and to even view the location of scheduled events, which is more than creepy if you think a bit about it.
Further, the app allows for notes reading, as well as viewing of photos and drawings if they are taken as notes. Of course, playing voice memos also is covered as well as tracking reminders such as alarms and meeting reminders. The worst thing is that the app advertises this as a great way to track employees’ reminders and work schedules. Why would someone needed a spying app to monitor that, when they can just look at schedules, which should be available for all to see at work?
15. Surroundings audio recording capability
Some of the spying apps even offer audio recordings by using the infected device microphone. XNSpy, for example, offers remote control of the device that includes commands for taking over the microphone and using it to record phone surroundings, which should be banned by law if you ask us. This is too much, even for spying apps. But it gets worse.
16. Taking over phone’s camera, making screenshots, and the ability to see all multimedia content on the infected device
Another extreme monitoring feature XNSpy offers is a way to see (and download) all multimedia content that’s physically kept on the infected device. Pictures, photos, if it is on the flash storage and not on the cloud, it is accessible.
Also, the app goes further and allows for a live screenshots feature. Basically, it gives control over the phone’s screenshots feature, which can be remotely activated snapping a screenshot and immediately sending it to a remote web account where a perpetrator is controlling the device. Creepy beyond limits.
Flexy Spy, among others, offers a remotely controlled camera feature. A user can take photos with the rear or front camera of the infected device; they can even take videos with the camera along with audio. Way more powerful than mere surroundings audio recording and even more concerning.
So yes, most classic employee monitoring solutions come with features that are concerning, from a privacy standpoint. What’s worse, workers cannot do anything about it. If their employer decides to use them, that’s it. But, if a worker discovers a spying app on their cell phone, they should ask themselves is their job worthy enough to leave them without any sense of privacy? Because, if you find a spying app on your business phone, you should know that personal privacy just become a thing of the past, for you and your close family.