Google will start removing stalkerware and ‘misleading’ apps from its Play Store from October 21

The tech giant will give app developers until October 1 to remove stalkerware code from their official online store. 

Google has announced that it is clamping down on apps containing stalkerware capabilities, defined by the company as “code that transmits personal information off the device without adequate notice or consent and doesn’t display a persistent notification that this is happening.” 

On September 16, the company updated its Developer Program Policy to state that any apps distributed on its store that monitors a user’s behaviour must include, “adequate notice or consent”; a “persistent notification” of background tracking; must not present their app as a “spying or secret surveillance solution”; or attempt to “hide” or “mislead” users of their surveillance purposes.

Google has made an exception for apps that can be used by parents to track their children’s location but states in its update that these apps cannot be used to track a user, such as a spouse, without consent and notification. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has reported that stalkerware apps are being designed and marketed as a surveillance tool for suspicious partners who wish to spy on a particular device without the user’s knowledge.

The Coalition Against Stalkerware, a group of security companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers, says the coding can be used to enable “gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual abuse.” 

This is echoed by Christoph Hebeisen, director of security intelligence research at cloud-security company, Lookout, who said, “The use of mobile technology for surveillance in abusive relationships is a disturbing trend. Google’s move to curb such apps on Play is a step in the right direction.”

 


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