Google has officially announced a ban on stalkerware – apps that spy on people – starting from October 1. The company has also come down on gambling apps in countries outside the UK, Brazil, France and Ireland where these are legal.
Developers of stalkerware and gambling apps have a grace period of a couple of weeks to make certain changes in order to comply with Google Play Store’s new rules. The company banned spyware in August this year, but ignored applications which enable parents to keep track of their kids.
In effect, this meant apps masquerading as security software for parents monitoring their kids or people keeping an eye on vulnerable family members, could be advertised for stalking spouses or exes. And this is precisely what has been happening. A lot of these are being marketed as dual-purpose spying apps.
A spying or stalkerware app installed on a phone typically tracks the movements of an unwitting user and snoops on calls and messages. It can also secretly transmit personal information, cloak tracking behavior and stay hidden from the screen by virtue of not displaying an app icon.
With the new announcement by Google, a spying application must show a persistent notification and have a unique icon that clearly identifies it so the person being watched stays informed. Previously, traces of spyware installed on a smartphone could easily be camouflaged.
“Non-stalkerware apps distributed on the Play Store which monitor or track a user’s behavior on a device must minimally comply with these requirements,” says Google.
The Play Store is awash with millions of apps. A lot of abusers discover software for stalking spouses or exes by doing a Google Search. So it makes sense that Google has also told developers to not describe their apps as spying or secret surveillance solutions from now on.
Apart from this, Google is going to bar apps and developer accounts which impersonate another entity or misrepresent their ownership or primary purpose. It will even turn away applications or developers who engage in coordinated activity to mislead users.
The ban on gambling apps in the Google Play Store will take effect on October 21.