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How Do Cell Phone Spy Apps Work?

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Spy apps are powerful surveillance software that can record phone calls, intercept text messages, social media chats, internet browsing history, and other sensitive information.

These app run in the background on a phone and cannot be detected by users.

Cell phone spy apps (also known as spyware or surveillance software) work by downloading data from the target phone via wifi or cellular service for storage on a server. This data can then be viewed through a web-based dashboard.

Smartphone spyware apps operate differently depending on the type of phone being monitored. Let’s take a look at how spyware apps work on two of the most popular types of phone.

How Spy Apps Work on iPhone

iPhone spy apps work by gaining access to the iCloud account of the target phone’s user. To do this the app first needs the username and password of the target user.

Once this information is entered the software downloads all of the backup data from the iCloud account and stores it on a server.

This data is then available for viewing by the person who purchased the spying software.

No-Jailbreak Versions

Most iPhone spyware does not require jailbreaking the phone. This limits the amount of data that can be monitored because the data for many apps is encrypted.

For instance Snapchat, Tinder, and some other chat apps can NOT be monitored in this manner.

Spying apps like uMobix, SPYIC, and Cocospy only offer no-jailbreak versions of their software.

Jailbreak Versions

Jailbreaking an iPhone disables most of the phones built-in security. This allows apps to access more information on the device. Apple is very strict in controlling what information apps can access. The jailbreak process bypasses these restrictions.

For users who are willing to jailbreak the target iPhone it is possible to monitor more data.

FlexiSPY, mSpy, and a handful of other companies offer jailbreak versions of their software. These tend to be less reliable because phone operating system updates will override the jailbreak.

How Android Spy Apps Work

Android phone’s don’t back up to a cloud account. So an Android spy app must be installed directly on the target device. The app then sends data to a server for storage and viewing.

Because the Android operating system sees surveillance apps as a threat, the security settings of the device must be changed during the setup process.

Installing Spy Apps on Android

Typically you will need physical access to the phone, and know the users password, in order to install the spy app software.

Most of these apps are quite small and can be downloaded in seconds. Many companies can help you install the app for a small fee. This is worthwhile just to ensure everything is configured properly.

The installation of an Android spy apps looks like the following:

  1. The person must get physical access to the target device.
  2. Install the app on the device (usually a quick download).
  3. Enter license key information into the app.
  4. In some cases the spying app will need to be hidden.
  5. Login to your control panel to monitor data from the phone.

To get the most possible data some software will require you to root the phone. More on this in a bit.

Rooting an Android Phone

monitor cell phone apps

Rooting an Android allows the spy software to access more data.

Not all spy apps require you to root an Android phone.

uMobix allows users to access Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Tinder, Snapchat, and many others without rooting.

This step is something that spy app companies can help you with through their tech support teams.

Viewing Data in Your Web-Based Control Panel

highster online control panel

To view all of the information captured by the spy app you will login to a web-based control panel. While different companies have different control panel options, they all do basically the same thing.

Here you’ll see all the information from the target phone. Phone calls, text messages (even those that have been deleted), photos and videos, web browsing history, and more.

You’ll also be able to see the physical location of the phone on a map. Some apps also incorporate a location timeline so you can track where the phone has been over the past 24 hours. You can also set up geo-fencing which notifies you when the phone enters or leaves certain areas on a map.

Other features you can access from your control panel include:

  • view and download photos and videos
  • store messages and phone logs
  • taking a picture with the phones’s camera
  • ambient listening to hear what’s happening around the phone
  • locking and unlocking the phone


Most spy apps are designed to work with both iOS (iphone and iPad) and Android devices. Some phones, like the Google Pixel, are not supported. But most phones from Samsung, LG, Apple, Nokia, Blackberry, and many more are supported.

To find out if the phone you want to monitor is supported you can do a quick check of compatible phones on the company’s website.

Apps from FlexiSPY, mSpy, Highster Mobie, Spyzie, and other big players will be compatible with even the newest iOS and Android operating systems. Again it’s worth noting that Android spy apps will require you to have physical access to the phone.

Cellular and Internet Access

All of these apps rely upon an internet connection to send and receive information. If the phone is in a dead area or currently has no internet, data will be delayed to your control panel.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to see it, it just means that it will be stored locally on the phone until internet access is reestablished. Then all of the data will be sent to the app’s server and will shortly be reflected in your control panel.

Legal Considerations

Mobile phone spy software is designed to monitor and record data such as SMS messages, call history, GPS location, and more.

Parents may use spying apps to monitor their children’s phone and social media activity. Employers may also install monitoring software on company-owned devices to track an employee’s email or internet activity.

It’s also important to know that installing a spying app on someone’s phone without their permission is considered illegal and should be handled very carefully.

About the Author

Jason has over 25 years in the information and internet security industry. He is passionate about smartphones, gadgets, and technology. He also got a solid background in programming and software.  This includes Python, C++, app development and more.

jason thompson