Google to ban ads for secret spy apps known as stalkerware – CNET


It might get harder to advertise apps known as spyware or stalkerware on Google’s platform starting in August.

Angela Lang/CNET

Google will ban makers of stalkerware apps from advertising on its platform, starting in August, the company said in an update this month. The move is designed to make it even harder to reach potential customers for the apps, which are already banned from Google’s and Apple’s stores. 

Stalkerware or spyware apps are disturbingly common. Tens of thousands of the services are available by some estimates, and they let someone who has access to your phone or cloud passwords intercept your texts, call logs and location while having access to your microphone and camera. They’re associated with domestic violence, and often are used for illegal activity. 

Cracking down on the apps has proven difficult, prompting a group effort among advocates, antivirus companies and legal experts, some of whom have formed the Coalition Against Stalkerware. Google and Apple have also removed many of the apps from their platforms, but they are still available from app-makers’s websites. Cutting down on advertising could further limit the apps’ reach. (CNET wrote a series of stories on these apps and their dangers earlier this year. They’re listed in the curated links box below.)

The apps have thrived in to a legal gray area. The law lets app makers advertise the products as family safety apps, meant to keep track of kids’ phone use and locations. But because they often run completely in the background, with no icon or notifications to let the user know they’re there, the apps are useful for people who want to spy on partners or exes without their consent.

In a Harris poll conducted with NortonLifeLock, 1 in 10 people in the US said they’ve used the apps to track an ex or partner.

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Google’s new policy does allow app makers to advertise services “designed for parents to track or monitor their underage children.” It’s unclear whether the policy will stop companies from advertising their apps with Google if they stick to family friendly messaging. Under the hood, they may still act like stalkerware apps, as security writer Graham Cluley pointed out in a blog post Friday.  

Google didn’t respond to a request to clarify the exception in the policy update.

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