How freelance site Fiverr enabled amateur spies

A computer programmer or hacker prints a code on a laptop keyboard to break into a secret organizati...

It's amazing what $5 can get you. On Fiverr, a freelancer platform where users can sell just about any service imaginable for as little as five bucks, it's typical to see people offer graphic design help or resumé-editing services in exchange for the nominal fee.

But if you're willing to dig a little deeper into the site, Vice reports, you can also avail yourself of all sorts of illegal spying services.

An investigation by Vice found a variety of gig listings on Fiverr's platform that promise to invade the privacy of others. In some cases, listings offered to sell customers spying malware that can be installed on a person's phone in order to track their location and document their activity on the device, including recording keystrokes and web history. The listing offered several variations of the malicious spyware, including versions that reportedly target a person's passwords and attempt to gain access to their emails and other forms of communication. "I have undetectable spyware to monitor your cheating spouse," one of the listings reportedly read.

The services went even further, too: Other providers offered to go so far as to put a tracking device on a person's vehicle for a small fee and report on every location that they visited for an entire week. The listing came from a person who claimed to work for a firm that specializes in divorce matters and additionally offered video and photographic evidence of the person's location if needed, per Vice. Another listing similarly promised to physically follow a person and document their behavior in an attempt to catch "cheating" partners. Others simply offered to dig through a person's social media history and any other digital information they could get their hands on.

Fiverr has since removed some of the listings, including those that sell illegal and malicious software and offer physical tracking of a person's location. However, the unauthorized "personal investigator" listings remain. According to Vice, the company rationalized keeping the listing online because the person is "offering search services that come from public sources, like social media or Google searches."

Mic found that when searching for a "private investigator" on Fiverr, among the first results is a person offering to snoop on significant others. The person claims to specialize in "relationship infidelity" and offers to dig through a person's social media presence as well as "offline interaction and in person" behaviors if requested. "A warning that this might end your relationship is necessary as I usually do find significant evidence," the listing states. Dozens of other, similar listings pop up when searching for "cheating spouse" and "cheating partner."

These types of services are pretty common online, even outside of Fiverr. The internet is littered with spying services, almost always targeted at people who want to catch their partner in the act of cheating. Malware that can be put on a person's phone or other device to track their activity and steal everything from their text messages to their photos can be bought online for a couple hundred bucks. Private investigator services can also be found relatively easily online if you go looking for them. These types of services are incredibly problematic, not just because they are often illegal, but because they also enable all sorts of dangerous behaviors, including stalking and partner abuse.

But bad actors have been an ongoing issue for the freelancer platform. In the past, sellers on Fiverr have offered to boost follower and view counts on social media, using bots and other fake accounts to do so. Lawyers have raised warning flags about cheap legal services on offer, claiming the practices are potentially illegal as most of the sellers have not passed the bar exam and aren't certified to practice law. Some sellers offer to write essays and do homework for students, which almost certainly violates academic rules set forth by most schools and universities.

Perhaps most notably, Fiverr was dinged by Amazon after the giant online marketplace discovered thousands of Fiverr users selling fake reviews for products — a situation that resulted in Amazon suing Fiverr for allowing those services on its platform. (The irony of Amazon itself playing host to its fair share of fraudulent sellers shouldn't be lost.) Fiverr acknowledged its struggle to moderate its sprawling platform in its Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this year, writing: "While we have adopted policies regarding illegal or offensive use of our platform by our users and retain authority to remove user-generated content that violates our policies, users could nonetheless engage in these activities."

Still, the spying services are troubling on their own: They're almost certainly illegal, encourage the invasion of individuals' privacy, and prey upon humans' worst instincts and paranoia. If things feel off in your relationship and you're harboring suspicions, try talking to your partner honestly about your concerns and explaining where your fears are coming from. Feeling that your trust may have been broken is not an excuse to hire an internet stranger to blatantly violate your partner's privacy.