Instagram is shutting down a creepy app that lets you stalk loved ones

Like Patrol bills itself as a way to keep tabs on your partner's likes on Instagram. But the social network has sent a cease-and-desist order after CNET contacted the company.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
4 min read

Instagram said it's sent a cease-and-desist to Like Patrol.

James Martin/CNET

A new app is looking to revive one of the creepiest Instagram features and encouraging people to spy on their significant others through social media. Critics said the app's offerings make it resemble stalkerware. 

In early October, Instagram killed off its "Following" tab, which told people what posts and accounts their friends were interacting with. It would let you know whose posts they liked and what comments they left on other people's feeds. The tab was widely regarded as a stalking tool

Like Patrol, which quietly launched on the iOS Store in July, doesn't just want to bring back that social media surveillance, it wants to amplify it. "Think the defunct 'Following' Tab, on steroids," Sergio Luis Quintero, the app's founder, said in an email.

It won't be around much longer. In response to a CNET inquiry into the app, Instagram said Like Patrol's developers were violating its rules and has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company. The Facebook-owned social network has frequently dealt with third parties scraping people's data without their consent

"Scraping violates our policies, and we take action against companies who we find to be engaging in it. Like Patrol was scraping people's data, so we are taking appropriate enforcement action against them," a Facebook spokesperson said.

Apps such as Like Patrol represent just one of the ways that technology has helped people stalk others. Stalkerware apps, which are often used in abusive relationships, can track and send location data, contacts, call logs and messages to attackers. Like Patrol isn't stalkerware, but it borders on it by encouraging people to use technology to closely monitor a person's social media activities. 

"It's monitoring a person's activities, compiling it and sending it as a report," said Wendy Zamora, editor-in-chief of cybersecurity company Malwarebytes. 

Quintero argues that the information it's scraping is public data. Private detectives often spy on social media feeds to collect data on people, and law enforcement will go undercover on Facebook to monitor groups. Like Patrol wants average people to aim that watchful eye on their own relationships. On its website, the company wrote, "New guy? New girl? What are they up to on Instagram?"

Like Patrol promises to send notifications anytime someone you're following likes a post or comments. It breaks the information down by gender, and provides people with a list of who a person interacts with the most on Instagram. It even claims to have an algorithm to point out whenever a person likes posts from attractive people.

Facebook also said it's banned Like Patrol from Facebook and Instagram, and the company is reviewing other apps from the same developer.



Like Patrol said that its app would notify users and uses an algorithm to detect attractive people.

Like Patrol

Instagram didn't invent spying on your significant other, but its Following tab, which started as a feature in 2011, helped normalize it, said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who studies social media. 

Getting rid of the Following tab didn't get rid of people's insecurities and jealous behavior. And its void inspired apps such as Like Patrol to step in and ramp up surveillance. 

"Facebook built this culture. The apps are just serving the wants of the public that were groomed on it," Grygiel said. 

When Instagram got rid of the Following tab, it also took away data points that Like Patrol relied on. In response, Quintero said the team developed its own algorithm to navigate Instagram and the people you follow, scraping data from their likes and comments and organizing it in one place.

The app is looking to profit off of people's insecurities, by charging subscription fees for the service so people can continue spying on Instagram. It costs $2.99 for a weekly subscription, and $80 for a year-long plan. Quintero said there are fewer than 300 people signed up. 

You don't have to consent to be followed by the app. Anyone can use Like Patrol and get notifications on your every move as long as they're following you on Instagram. While you can keep your account private or block people on Instagram, Like Patrol doesn't tell people when they're being tracked through its app.

Quintero defended his app, and said that it would actually improve relationships and privacy by pushing people away from using Instagram. 

"Our hope in the medium to long term is if enough people know of our existence they may think twice about behaving improperly," he said. 

Critics said the app would instead foster surveillance in relationships and could end up making things worse in abusive relationships. 

"When you talk about it in the context of domestic abuse, this could light fires for people who are using social media as a form of control," Zamora said. "This could potentially enrage somebody to be making mountains out of molehills."

Watch this: How to get your Instagram account back from hackers (The 3:59, Ep. 572)