Attorney General James Secures $410,000 from Tech Companies for Illegally Promoting Spyware and Violating New Yorkers' Privacy
Multiple Companies Owned by Patrick Hinchy Sold Software Products that Allowed Individuals to Spy on their Partners without Their Consent
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today secured $410,000 from Patrick Hinchy and 16 of his companies for illegally promoting spyware that allowed individuals to monitor another person’s device without their awareness. The software products sold by Hinchy’s companies allowed users to secretly monitor activity on another device, including call logs, text messages, photos and videos, location, Gmail activity, WhatsApp and Skype messages, social media activity, and browsing history. The companies’ advertisements and promotions led customers to believe that using their products for spying was legal, however, installing and using stalkerware to monitor another adult’s mobile device without their consent violates numerous state and federal laws. As a result of this agreement, Hinchy’s companies must pay $410,000 in penalties and modify their apps to alert device owners that their devices are being monitored.
“Snooping on a partner and tracking their cell phone without their knowledge isn’t just a sign of an unhealthy relationship, it is against the law,” said Attorney General James. “These apps and products put New Yorkers at risk of stalking and domestic abuse, and were aggressively promoted by Patrick Hinchy through 16 different companies. Today’s agreement will block these companies from allowing New Yorkers to be monitored without their awareness, and will continue our ongoing fight to protect New Yorkers’ rights, safety, and privacy.”
A consortium of companies owned by Hinchy promoted several apps as tools to spy on spouses or intimate partners without their awareness or consent. An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that Hinchy and his companies also misrepresented their refund and data security policies, failed to disclose the potential harm to a device caused by the installation of their products, and created sham review sites to lure customers into purchasing and using the stalkerware products.
The investigation revealed that Hinchy created numerous websites that purported to provide independent technology advice, but in reality, solely promoted the stalkerware products sold by Hinchy’s companies. Hinchy’s stalkerware companies also failed to disclose the need to perform an invasive procedure, known as rooting for Android devices or jailbreaking on Apple devices, and the risks associated with such procedures. Customers were also misled by confusing refund policies and false claims regarding the data security of information obtained by the stalkerware products.
Today’s agreement requires Hinchy and his companies to pay $410,000 in penalties, disgorgement, and costs. In addition, Hinchy’s companies must modify the apps and software so that the owner of the device being monitored is notified and informed of the types of information collected by the app or software and made available for viewing by the user of the product. The agreement further requires Hinchy and his companies to make accurate disclosures regarding endorsements, rooting and jailbreaking requirements, refund policies, and data security.
The companies owned by Hinchy and named in today’s agreement include Powerline Group Inc., Powerline Media LLC, Powerline Data LLC, Powerline Digital LLC, Powerline Commerce LLC, ILF Mobile Apps Corp., Auto Forward Data Services LLC, DDI Utilities Inc., DDI Data Solutions Inc., Highster Mobile Inc., Highster Data Services LLC, PhoneSpector LLC, Safeguarde LLC, BFG Marketing LLC, Digital Security World LLC, and CTS Technologies Corp.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Marc Montgomery, Jina John, and Laura Mumm of the Bureau of Internet and Technology, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Kim A. Berger and Deputy Bureau Chief Clark P. Russell. The Bureau of Internet and Technology is a part of the Division for Economic Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris D’Angelo and First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.