Spyware Websites Taken Down & Owner Fined. What happened?
Oct 13, 2023
Oct 13, 2023
The people search sites promoting stalking and spyware.
Kiwisearches, Clicksearch, and Herosearches were three people search sites owned and operated by a New York conglomerate of spyware companies run by Patrick Hinchy. Kanary had been fighting to get members’ data removed from these sites since 2020, and frustratingly, many of our requests were blocked by absurd ID requirements. While we gave guidance for how and when to comply or push back on an ID request, we felt helpless.
Until now. These sites are now offline. “This service is no longer available” shows up when trying to access any personal data on their sites. This means our members' ages, home addresses, and phone numbers are no longer easily searchable to anyone online through these sites.
A spyware app pretending to be a safety app
While Kanary and our members submitted hundreds of complaints about these sites and escalated to their hosting providers, the final blow that caused the shut down was the spring 2023 legal action by the NY Attorney General.
In addition to these people search sites, their CEO Patrick Hinchy also marketed a group of spyware apps, targeting parents and pretending to be a children’s safety product. Once installed on a kid’s device, the spyware allowed the companies to siphon off data from unknowing accounts and devices. They could track messages, location, emails… all without the owner of the device knowing. Then the related data broker and people search sites packaged that data and sold it to the highest bidder.
NOTE: The following businesses were running the websites and apps in this spyware and data broker ecosystem. We'd advise that you avoid all services associated with these or the Hinchy brothers.
What about punishment?
You may be thinking that these companies should be shut down and made illegal. While the FTC has shut down spyware companies in the past, and actually stalking someone is illegal, there are no state laws that make running this type of tech illegal. The best the NY Attorney General could do in this case was force the company to disclose the privacy and security risks of the product and pay a fine. Under the ruling Hinchy will pay $410,000 in civil penalties.
Our best guess is that the media attention, combined with the financial penalty pushed Hinchy and team to take Kiwisearches and similar sites offline both to avoid additional penalties and reduce operating expenses. This is a clear success story of what happens when regulators properly enforce existing laws to make creepy businesses like this financially unsustainable.
Keep Up The Fight
Kanary is always trying to connect individual privacy rights to broader legal action. For more information on how Kanary can help you remove your exposures, or connect you with more resources, visit our How it Works page.
Check out Kanary's Guide for Removal Research for insights and tips on removal research.
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