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Spying Through the Smartphone

Dear Carolyn,

I am a mother with primary custody of a nine-year-old daughter. The father has visitation. For Christmas, he bought our daughter a smartphone for Christmas, but he did not discuss this with me. He had spyware on the smartphone that allowed him to see her opening the Christmas present.  I thought that he disengaged the spyware after she opened the present, but I just found out that the spyware is still engaged on my daughter’s phone. This smartphone allows him to track everywhere we go.  He told our daughter to be sure to keep the phone with her, particularly when she is with Mommy. His spying makes me feel eerie. We are divorced, so why does he want to know where I am? What should I do?


Carolyn Answers…

Your questions raise many interesting issues:  What age should a child receive a smartphone?  What do you do about mobile tracking and spyware?  What do you do about controlling behavior after the relationship is over?

The age a child should receive a smartphone is child specific. A child’s first phone should not be a smartphone, but merely a cellphone that allows the child to call 911 and home, but the parent should block other uses of the phone  that might be appropriate for a nine-year-old. I would not allow a nine-year-old to have a smartphone, at least not unsupervised. As the child progresses into a smartphone, the parent should block all access to pornography and other inappropriate sites. I would also block access to violence.  Parents also have to decide how much texting is healthy for their child. There are several phone designed especially for children. You might look at for “7 Best Cellphones for Kids”.

It is unclear in your question if you are calling the “location” service of a smartphone spyware, or if there is a particular additional spyware program on the smartphone. You can turn off the “location” service under “settings”.  Spyware is another issue. You may want to engage a digital forensic examiner to review the phone and preserve evidence, particularly if you think a crime may have been committed.

I am concerned that your ex told your daughter to “keep the phone with her, particularly when she is with Mommy”. It appears you ex wants to know where you are. Why does he want to know? That is controlling behavior in the best case. You should be alert to any other controlling or harassing behavior because this conduct could be a red flag. For example, does he drive through your neighborhood? Stalking is both criminal and domestic violence. Keep your eyes open.


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This blog is revised from a previous Ask Carolyn in The Rhino Times.

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions. 

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