An online way to track a cheating spouse--or others in the house

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There seems something seamy about surveillance software--something seedy about a product widely publicized as a tool for jealous spouses. So it’s notable that the makers of Spector Pro www.spectorsoft.com surveillance software are trying to clean up its image a bit.

Spying is questionable enough, even if it’s a beloved child you’re trying to protect, and it was with some hesitation that I tried Spector Pro as part of a look at tools for parents concerned about their kids’ activities on social networking sites. A new version, Spector Pro 6.0, is due out this week. And say what you will about the wisdom of surveillance software, this is one slick piece of technology. It loads smoothly and is easy to hide, if you choose to keep your spying a secret. Then it monitors everything that happens on the PC. Perhaps most impressive are the snapshots of what transpired on that machine--frequent screen grabs that you later review as a sort of slide show. The latest version is smarter, relying more on actions, such as a mouse click or an application opening, instead of just grabbing periodic images.

But wading through days, or weeks, of snapshots can be tough. So the new version adds "top 10" summary reports of, say, who the teen was instant messaging with and when. If there’s a red flag, you can go to the snapshots. And it’s set up to specifically monitor MySpace activities, including the site’s chat program. But one of the best changes is something abandoned: Spector Pro is no longer marketed at jealous spouses. That was an unexpected, and hugely profitable, market for the software soon after it hit the market in the late 1990s, says Doug Fowler, CEO of SpectorSoft, the company that makes Spector Pro. But dealing with love gone wrong wasn’t much fun."It just wasn’t healthy for our employees," says Fowler.

So the company has cleaned its site of any mention of cheating lovers, insecure boyfriends, and suspicious wives. Yet the company won’t — can’t — stop its product from becoming a tool in marital breakups. But the focus again is on parents concerned about their children, as well as companies watching over their networks.

I’m still torn about this approach to safe family computing, hoping I don’t have to resort to it when our boys are of computing age. But the product itself does its job well. And thank goodness it’s trying to shed an unattractive affair with angry spouses. Yes, says Fowler, "we’ve divorced ourselves from that market."