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Google “officially” bans stalkerware apps from Play Store

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Image: Mitchell Luo

Google has updated the Play Store rules to impose a “formal” ban on stalkerware apps, but the company leaves a pretty big loophole for uploading stalkerware as a child tracking application to the official store.

Stalkerware is a term used to describe an app that tracks user movements, snoops calls and messages, and records the activity of other apps.

Stalkerware, also known as spousware, is usually advertised to users as a way to discover fraudulent partners, track children outside the home, and monitor employee work.

The main feature of all stalkerware apps, whether intended for use on smartphones or laptops, these apps run in the background of the operating system and go unnoticed by the device owner. It can be installed and run.

Over the last decade, the Play Store has hosted hundreds of applications in the stalkerware category.

Google has intervened to remove stalkerware apps when they were pointed out by security researchers, but usually avoids official statements on this topic.

Google imposes a stalker wear ban … a kind

However, with today’s developer program policy update, Google keeps track of user actions, including “appropriate notification or consent,” for all apps that track users and send data to another device. He said he needs to display a “permanent notification” to indicate that he is.

A new rule, which will take effect on October 1st of the following month, bans stalkerware apps by disabling the ability to be installed and run undetected when installed on the victim’s device. If the user tracking app doesn’t add these UI changes, the app won’t go through the approval process to be listed on the Play Store.

But while the new rules seem like a step in the right direction, Google also leaves a loophole that can be exploited by dubious stalkerware developers.

According to Google, child tracking apps can continue to work without asking for consent or displaying a persistent notification on the screen. Google says that apps that track adults should include these two items.

In other words, nothing prevents a stalkerware developer from rebranding an app and keeping it running unimpeded. In fact, today’s announcement seems to go beyond the heads of all suspicious app developers, rather than the actual ban on stalking wear, and app developers spend almost two weeks observing the rules. ..

This exception to the child tracking app is the same loophole that Google left behind in a similar ban on stalking wear ads in July. Subsequent TechCrunch research found that the ban on stalking wear ads was not enforced. This raises the question of whether this will be done or a PR stunt.

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