Thanks, but no thanks SkyMall. I'll keep my privacy and my money

By Michael Carney , written on January 3, 2014

From The News Desk

Sometimes you see a product and ask yourself, who the hell would buy this?

I had that experience today (a few times actually) while flipping through the SkyMall catalog. The worst offender wasn’t just a lame tchotchke or overpriced gadget. It was the Brickhouse Security iPhone Spy Stick, an ethical nightmare in a box for the low price of just $119.95 – a true steal from the $149.95 MSRP.

If I were writing a subway ad for it, it might go something like this:

Distrust your spouse? Want to secretly monitor your employees or kids? Think the NSA spying activities haven’t gone far enough? Well, there’s a USB dongle for that.

Fortunately, additional research shows that it barely works, meaning it’s both a ripoff and a morally bankrupt product, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The SkyMall product description reads, in part:

This is the only tool you need to monitor your kids' or employees' phones, or back up all your important data. It's the ultimate smartphone monitoring solution.

Until recently, Brickhouse took this catch-all product description a step further, including “to catch a cheating spouse” first among its list of popular uses. The fact that BrickHouse chose to eliminate the cheating spouse reference is telling. The company clearly understands it’s on dubious ethical ground.

Brickhouse is quick to qualify the product’s true purpose (and cover its ass), stating:

This product complies with federal law. It is designed for use only on a device that you own or with the owner's permission.

Riiiight. A cheating spouse and misbehaving teenager are bound to hand over their phones willingly for a forensic scan. Employment law is changing rapidly in the BYOD and always-connected era, but undisclosed employee monitoring is surely unethical if not yet outright illegal. The very use of the word “Spy” in the product name should give anyone considering buying this product pause for concern.

Even SkyMall, the folks who sell the Men’s Torso Toner, the Dog Dung Vacuum, and the Human Slingshot, should know better than to hawk garbage like the Spy Stick.

Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, a brief product description is in order. The Spy Stick is a USB dongle that connects to an iPhone (or separately, an Android device) via a standard USB cable and then plugs into a PC’s USB port where it claims to recover deleted and hidden data like text messages, call history, web browsing activity, calendar appointments, contacts, photos, and map history, including exact GPS coordinates and searched locations. Phone scans reportedly take between one and 20 minutes depending on the amount of data – which is good because you wouldn’t want to have to steal your victim’s phone for too long. explains the basics:

The iPhone Spy Stick works by taking advantage of normal computer storage procedures. In other words, when data is deleted from an iPhone it is not really deleted unless the storage space has been overwritten. The only thing that’s happened is that the phone has removed the address markers for the data in question. The iPhone Spy Stick is capable of finding the data even without those markers.

Brickhouse Security, which has offered its Spy Stick since 2010, isn’t the only company developing such abominable products. Similar ones are available from iRecovery, Enigma, and others. All seem to offer comparable functionality and rely on an equally abhorrent marketing messaging.

Perhaps the only bit of good news is that the Spy Stick appears to be a terrible product, as consumer complaints suggest is a common theme with many of the company’s other products.

On the SkyMall product page, the Spy Stick has received five reviews, all rating the product 1-star out of five – presumably, zero was not an option. Complaints include iOS and Android version compatibility issues, general non-performance, deceptive marketing, and poor customer service. Maybe it’s just karma.

Brickhouse’s own FAQ reveals that the Spy Stick can only recover data deleted since the last time the device was synced to iTunes. Also, as new data is saved to the phone, previously deleted data is randomly overwritten and thus cannot be recovered, a process that becomes more likely when free storage space on the device is low. Finally, the Spy Stick can’t bypass a device passcode.

What’s apparent, however, is that this product is marginally effective under the best of circumstances and morally bankrupt in all of them. So, no, you absolutely shouldn’t buy the Spy Stick. And SkyMall should be embarrassed for selling it.

[Image via Brickhouse Security, YouTube]