Difference between Spyware and Spy Apps

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Spyware is often used by cybercriminals to target internet users. According to recent malware statistics, 560,000 new pieces of malware are detected every day. Almost half of this malware is spyware. 

Spy apps or spy software monitors and record all activities of a device. Instead of hiding it under another program, the user often installs this surveillance software. 

In this article, learn about the differences between spyware and spy apps as well as their function and purpose.

How Spyware and Spy Apps Function

You may have used spyware and spy app terms interchangeably because they both can have remote access to your device and personal data. Spyware and spy apps both aim to monitor user activities, yet there are distinct distinctions between them.

Here’s how they work: 


Spyware is malicious software installed on computers or phones without the user’s knowledge or consent. It often aims to steal sensitive information like passwords and financial details, as well as track user activity for advertising purposes. 

Spyware can be hidden in downloads of legal programs, email attachments, or pop-ups on websites. Once activated, it runs in the background without being noticed, collecting data before sending it back to its creator’s server.

 It is usually used to gather sensitive information such as:

  • Passwords
  • Usernames
  • Email addresses
  • Browsing histories
  • Banking details like credit card numbers
  • PIN codes
  • Text messages that contain personal data

According to recent data breach statistics, Spyware is one of the leading causes of 51% of data leak incidents. This makes internet users targets for different types of identity theft. 

Spy Apps

Spy Apps are often installed on a device with the consent of the device’s owner. Spy apps run in the background and may allow you to:

  • Track the device’s activities 
  • Read messages
  • See the device’s location
  • Check call history 
  • See images and videos
  • Access other apps and emails
  • Use the device’s microphone

Spy apps can be beneficial, even though the software is usually seen as a bad thing. Unfortunately, spy applications can still be misused in harmful ways; if launched without the user’s knowledge or consent, they could invade their privacy.

Purpose of Spyware and Spy Apps

Fraudsters are the most common users of Spyware to make a profit out of stealing sensitive data. Websites may also use this for performance evaluations and user statistics. 

Spy apps, on the other hand, can be beneficial for:

  • Parents’ monitoring of kids’ computer activities 
  • Company’s overseeing of employees;’ tasks
  • School’s tracking of records and monitoring of students’ engagements
  • Your file control and backup 

Spyware can put you in danger as it harvests your information and put you at risk of identity theft. In contrast, spy apps can help you with personal and business needs. 

Installing and using spy apps can be helpful for parents while spyware can be dangerous if you install it unconsciously on your device. 

Installation and Usage

Spyware installs itself immediately when you click malicious links from emails or advertisements. It can also download itself through file attachments and app packages.

The information thief may already capture data from your device for another person to use your identity. The malicious software usually targets Windows laptops and computers. However, attackers can also target devices like smartphones. 

Unlike spyware, spy apps do not enter your device on their own. They must be downloaded and installed on your device for remote access.

You can download spy apps for free on the internet or from app stores. Once you have downloaded the software on your device, you can open the file and follow the prompts to install it. 

There are spy apps that can work on all types of smartphones. Few spy apps can work without the internet. It depends on the software you downloaded. However, it will usually need an internet connection. 

It’s possible to use and install spyware and spy apps on devices. But, there are serious legal implications you have to consider when using them. 

Legal Matters on Spyware and Spy Apps

Even though law enforcement has often gone after the people who make malware like viruses, most people who make spyware haven’t been punished under criminal law. They may have been sued on occasion, but many companies that make spyware are even legal businesses.

Using a cell phone spy app, on the other hand, is legal if you get permission from the person you want to spy on. As long as the person you want to spy on gives you permission, you can listen in on their cell phone.

The following are the laws usually applied to the use of spyware and spy apps:


Majority of spyware is legal since there are no laws passed that prohibit developers from running their businesses. How fraudsters use spyware is what makes it unlawful. It even disguises itself as legit software which adds to the risks for internet users. 

Laws and bills which intend to stop criminals from using spyware for their crimes include:

U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) 

According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the CFAA prohibits intentional access to your computer without authorization. It can be a tool against computer activity abuse when you detect unconsented Spyware.

U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)

The U.S. Department of Justice notes that ECPA is also known as the “Wiretap Act.” It prohibits third parties from intentionally stopping, using, or sharing private communications. 


Because of these gaps, the U.S. Congress made these two:

  1. Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY ACT)
  2. Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act 

SPY ACT prohibits deceptive actions related to spyware programs. The congressional report explains that Spyware requires consent and notification to collect your information. 

As shown in another congressional report, I-SPY Prevention Act imposes a fine or five years prison term for the following:

  • Intentional access on protected computers
  • Getting or forwarding personal data with fraudulent motives
  • Intentional damage on protected computers. 

Yet, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes there is no need for another law. 

Federal Trade Commission Act’s Section 5

The Federal Reserve Board explains that FTC Act Section 5 prohibits deceptive activities that affect business. The government can take needed actions against those who violate this act. It is important to read consent forms before clicking “Accept” to avoid anyone stealing data from your computer. 

Spy Apps

Spy apps like monitoring software are legal as long as the software buyers install it themselves on their computers. 

When you buy the software and install it on a computer that is not yours, you may violate federal or state laws. 

Understanding these laws and making sure that you know your rights is crucial in keeping yourself safe and away from the risk of identity theft and other forms of cybercrime. 

It is also important to read and understand the terms and conditions of any app that you are installing to ensure that you are not getting any malware into your devices. 

Detection and Removal of Spyware and Spy Apps

Spyware can be running on your device without your knowledge. On the other hand, spy apps run on your device because you installed them. However, it is possible to have spy apps on your device that you did not install. 

To detect spyware and spy apps, you can either check for symptoms or run anti-spyware tools on your device. Doing so may protect you from identity theft and other cybercrimes. 

To remove spyware from an Android device or other devices, you can use anti-spyware or antivirus software to identify the spyware. You can also reset your device. 

As for spy apps, you can just manually uninstall them from your device. You can also reset your device, just make sure to make a backup of your files. Using legit antivirus or anti-spyware software may help you avoid further actions or damage. 


Even though spyware and spy apps look the same, there are some important differences between the two. 

Spyware is malicious software that can be put on a device without the user’s knowledge or permission. They are used to collect private information like login credentials or personal details. 

Spy apps, on the other hand, are legal monitoring tools that can be used to keep an eye on kids or employees. They can only be added with the explicit permission of the device owner. 

It’s important to know these differences if you want to protect your internet privacy and security and use legal tools to keep an eye on your devices or those of your family. 

Read the app’s terms and conditions carefully before installing it. Don’t download software from places you don’t trust. Taking these steps will help you keep your personal information safe.

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