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Urging of prosecution of spyware case brings spotlight to larger problem

 VietNamNet Bridge – The chairman of Basico Law Firm recently stated that authorities should prosecute a case in which a local company sold a spyware app to thousands of customers.

VietNamNet Bridge – The chairman of Basico Law Firm recently stated that authorities should prosecute a case in which a local company sold a spyware app to thousands of customers.

Private firm “spying” on 14,000 mobile phone subscribers



According to the lawyer, Truong Thanh Duc, the company has clearly broken the law and violated privacy rights. Currently, the highest fine for illegally collecting data is VND10-20 million (USD476-952). "Although this punishment may act as a deterrent for individuals involved in minor cases, it may be insufficient for companies. But police should still prosecute Viet Hong Company, who deliberately infringed on the confidentiality rights of people," he said.

"The fines we have now for such crimes are not enough because the company violated the privacy of many people." The law states that offenders who commit organised crimes, consistently repeat offenses or cause serious damages may be criminally prosecuted and even sentenced to prison for up to two years.

However, he went on to say that Viet Hong Company has also been accused of using individuals' online information for their own business purposes, which could bring prison sentences as high as seven years.

On May 13, the inspectorate of Hanoi Department of Information and Communication and the Anti-Hi-Tech Crimes Police Department conducted a search of the offices of Viet Hong Company after they released the Ptracker app for android phones. Ptracker was released and advertised as an employee-tracking app, a phone locator intended to help company leaders manage their workforce.

Customers who purchase Ptracker are enabled to gain access to both text and voice messages without their users knowledge. They can also remotely activate other features on computers and phones, such as cameras and microphones.

In fact, Duc's reference to the current laws pertaining to privacy do not concern only Viet Hong. A quick internet search will reveal many of other firms selling similar products. This brings up the question of just how well citizens are protected from spying by employers or other unknown entities, as well as how the law should adapt. Also if there is a prosecution in this case, it may set a precedent for the prosecution of any number of other businesses operating in this area.

As far as Ptracker, whether or not users actually buy the app, once the trial version has been installed, which could feasibly be done without their permission, the information from that phone or computer continues to be transferred and stored to a server owned by Viet Hong Company. This data can easily be accessed by the company's employees. If a customer pays for the app they will also have access to all data on the server.

Colonel Le Hong Son, head of the Anti-Hi-Tech Crimes Police Department, said Ptracker has been installed in over 14,000 phones and they have around 700 paying customers. Not only do such actions violate Vietnamese laws on information and technology, the company may also be guilty of violating advertising laws, since the services they offered are banned.

An expert said that it takes only a few minutes to install this type of app on a smartphone. This leaves the possibility of the owner of a device leaving it unattended for a short time and another person secretly installing it. The victim would be unaware that the background programme was constantly running.

Even a possible court case against Viet Hong Company exposes the width and breadth of data than can be collected from users without their knowledge, including banking information, passwords, as well as business and personal exchanges.



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