Google finally bans stalkerware apps - but there may still be a problem

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Google has revealed an update to its Play Store app marketplace rules that it says should ban so-called "stalkerware (opens in new tab)" apps for good.

The company has moved to block spying apps that allow a victim's devices to be monitored by a third-party, including their location and what information they access online, following a global outcry.

Recent research found hundreds of such services were available to download via the Google Play Store, allowing users to spy on their families, partners, children or even total strangers. Such apps often run unnoticed on victim's devices, meaning they can be incredibly harmful and difficult to remove.

Stalkerware ban

The news was revealed in an update (opens in new tab) to Google's Developer Program policy, where the company stated that "adequate notice or consent" must be gained from the user of any app that tracks them and sends their personal information to another device.

Such apps will also need to show a "persistent notification" that the user's actions are being tracked going forward.

The new rules, which are set to come into effect on October 1 after a grace period to allow developer to make changes, look to ban any apps that don't make these updates, blocking them from the Play Store.

However Google notes that there are some "acceptable forms" of such apps - namely for parents tracking the whereabouts of their children.

"Only policy compliant apps exclusively designed and marketed for parental (including family) monitoring or enterprise management may distribute on the Play Store with tracking and reporting features," Google noted.

This means that stalkerware makers could simply refresh and redesign their apps as targeting parents, whilst in reality still allowing criminals or abusers to continue using the services as before.

Google had previously issued an updated ads policy (opens in new tab) in July, which banned vendors from advertising any product used to track or monitor another individual without consent. The company set the relevant organizations a hard deadline of August 11 to remove the offending ads.

A report from Avast found an 51% increase in the use of online spying and stalkerware apps across the globe during the lockdown period.

  • Here's our list of the best antivirus (opens in new tab) services out there

Via ZDNet (opens in new tab)

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.