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How to tell if someone is spying or tracking my Android phone
Modern smartphones are fascinating machines. These tiny computers have enough power to have our whole digital lives stored. And if it doesn’t fit in the phone, it certainly does in the cloud. All our music, images, and conversations live inside these nifty gadgets. It’s rather convenient, but it also makes you a target for spying.
There are plenty of possible spies to be worried about. For starters, hackers, scammers, and other digital attackers are out there trying to get your personal information. Then you also have to worry about jealous boyfriends/girlfriends, your phone’s past owners, parents, and even the government.
You can tell if someone is spying on your smartphone if it starts acting strangely. Some clues include performance issues, rising temperatures, reduced battery life, odd messages, weird sounds during calls, etc. Keep reading to learn more.
JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS
Editor’s note: All instructions within this article were made using a Pixel 4a with 5G running Android 12. Remember steps may be different if you’re using a device from another manufacturer and running different software.
Is someone spying on me?
How can you even know when someone is spying on your Android phone or tablet? It’s a bit tricky, but there are a few red flags you can look for. Let’s show you some of them.
Spyware constantly gets your data, works hard in the background, and eats up your resources. This is why devices often get slow when running this sneaky software in the background. Be worried if your phone is suddenly dropping performance for no apparent reason. This could also be happening for other reasons, so check out our dedicated post on how to speed up a smartphone first.
Battery life suddenly dropping
Noticing a phone doesn’t last as much as it did when first purchased is normal. Batteries start dying with time. Plus, you are probably throwing more work at devices as you continue to expand your app collection. But sudden drops in battery life are not typical.
Tracking software can take up a lot of resources. These are working in the background, running your GPS, and doing other things… sometimes all the time. Unexpected battery drains could mean someone is tracking your device, or it could be something else in your phone pulling all that juice. Check the link below to see if your phone could be dying for reasons other than spies.
How to check which apps are using up your battery:
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap on Battery.
- Hit Battery usage.
- A list of apps with a percentage of battery usage will appear.
- Check if there are any weird or unknown apps here. If you see something you can’t recognize, do a Google search and see if it’s possibly a spying or tracking app.
Check your precious data
A tracking app will try to update the attacker constantly. This means it will need data… and often plenty of it. Are you noticing unusual usage of your data? A possible attack could be the reason why this is happening.
This is especially bad because unlimited data subscribers often get throttled after using a certain amount of data. Furthermore, you might still be in a limited data plan, which would worsen the situation.
Related: The best data saver apps
How to check data usage:
- Open your phone’s Settings app.
- Select Network & internet.
- Under SIMs, select your SIM of choice.
- Go into App data usage.
- You can see more information here, and even check how much data each app uses.
- Check the list of apps and see which are using the internet more. Look for any discrepancies. It would be normal to see YouTube using up a lot of data, for example, but a “Notes” app shouldn’t use much.
Temperature suddenly rising
Is your phone getting a little too hot? This is normal during hard-core gaming sessions or while charging, but it shouldn’t happen when your phone is idle, sitting in your pocket, or doing light tasks. If you notice unusual temperatures on your handset, it might have fallen victim to spying.
We aren’t talking about paranormal activity… though sometimes it may seem like it. Sometimes phones that are being spied on make weird noises during calls. This could include white noise, beeping, or simple echoing. Of course, we all have lousy reception sometimes, but it shouldn’t be habitual.
Phone turning on and off
Other usual signs that your device may have been compromised are random reboots and shutdowns. Don’t go too crazy with this one, as some buggy phones do this at times, but keep your eyes open for other clues if you see this type of odd behavior.
Are you getting some weird text messages? Maybe ones with many letters and numbers that seem to be code. Perhaps just random talk from unknown numbers. They can be anything, really.
Attackers often use these to communicate with devices and give them commands. For example, if an attacker needs your location, he can request it by sending you a message with a pre-determined code.
Are any weird apps around?
Have you noticed some weird apps showing up out of nowhere? These could result from malware or spyware, which can often download and install apps on your smartphone without approval.
Is your phone doing things when it shouldn’t?
Notification lights, sounds, and screens activating are standard, but it’s not OK to see these things happening when they shouldn’t. You should be concerned if your phone shows signs of activity when you’re not doing anything with it. If your screen turns on or the phone makes a noise, and there is no notification in sight, this may be a sign someone is spying on you.
Issues turning off or restarting
Hackers can make turning off or restarting a phone complicated. Some spyware can even prevent such actions. These wrongdoers want to be able to check on your phone and interact with it without problems. Turning the device off would be a severe limitation.
Weird browser history entries
Look into your browser history and see if there’s anything weird in there. More specifically, try to see if there’s anything in there about phone spying software. Someone may have used your browser to download spyware. Likewise, people who want to steal your private data might also be looking around websites to see what they can take.
How can I fight spying and tracking apps?
OK. So you may have some spyware installed on your phone — now what?
Avoid rooting phones and unofficial app downloads
The Google Play Store does its best to keep you secure, but remember, we are Android users. We can easily install 3rd-party apps and be at risk of intrusion. We would advise that you don’t install apps from anywhere other than the Google Play Store. Installing apps manually can have its benefits, but it’s a favorite way for hackers and spies to get their software on your smartphone.
Now let’s talk about rooted phones. Owning a rooted phone is certainly a plus to some of us, but it comes with serious risks. Root users can dig into the system and modify the code. This could make it very hard to combat spyware. Remember Avast! Mobile Security? They could install their phone tracking software straight into the system files, making their solution survive even factory data resets. They did it for your security, but who says hackers won’t do it for opposite reasons?
We would advise you not to root your phone unless you feel very confident about what you’re doing. You should also consider unrooting your phone if it already is.
Other root-related content:
- Benefits of rooting your Android phone or tablet
- Rooting your Android — Everything you need to know!
- 15 best root apps for Android
Try to find the app manually
Do you believe someone is spying on your phone? The first step is to try and manually find any suspicious files or applications. You can use any file manager to do this. Another option is to simply take a look at your app drawer.
Oh, and remember, these guys are trying to keep things on the down-low, so chances are the app won’t just tout its real name and logo. It could be disguised as something else, like a notepad app. Just go in there and see if there’s anything unusual, and if you don’t remember installing it (and it wasn’t a pre-bundled app), you would be wise to remove it.
How to delete an Android app:
- Open the Settings app.
- Go into Apps.
- Tap on See all apps.
- Find the app you want to delete and tap on it.
- Tap on Uninstall.
- Hit OK.
Just wipe the phone!
Spyware is hard to find; it is also hard to clean. The only way to make sure it’s all gone is by wiping the phone clean and starting new again. I do this every single time I get a new device. It doesn’t matter if the phone looks like it was already reset; I do it again.
Just perform a factory data reset, and the phone will be in the same state it was when it was turned on for the first time (at least software-wise). Remember, this will delete everything, though, so remember to make a good backup.
Use an antivirus app
Many believe antivirus apps are bogus, and while this can be true, that’s not always the case. It is very rare to get any malicious software on your phone if you stay within Google’s protective arms, but the truth is these apps can potentially help fight spying and tracking. Here’s a list of our favorite ones!
Keeping your phone protected
Your phone is a very personal item. Don’t let just anyone go in and roam around like it’s an open house. Keep your phone with you and protect it well against strangers’ eyes. You can protect the lock screen (password, pin, fingerprint, etc.).
Maybe you want to take advantage of a spying app! Spying apps have a negative connotation, but they aren’t always a bad idea. They could help you keep track of your own devices, as well as your kids’. Check out our recommendations below.
We’d also like to bring a newer form of spying to your attention. People have more recently been planting tracking devices such as Apple AirTags on people’s belongings, such as vehicles. Thankfully, there is a way to check if someone’s doing this to you.