Google Finally Gets Around To Banning Ads For Stalkerware

from the i-spy dept

Stalkerware is one of those things that most people never would have considered when technologies were being developed, but which in hindsight come off as practically inevitable. These apps, often times named as if they would be chiefly marketed to parents trying to keep tabs on their kids, but which instead are also specifically advertised as ways to stalk current romantic partners and exes, are all different flavors of creepily allowing a person to snoop on the location and activities of an unsuspecting other person. The whole concept is so obviously evil that it's a wonder why any platform would allow these apps to be sold in the first place, and yet it was only in 2019 that Google managed to ban them from its app store.

Antivirus company Avast said Wednesday that it's found seven stalkerware apps available on Android's market. In all, they had been installed more than 130,000 times. Google removed four of the apps after Avast reported the privacy violations on Tuesday, and removed the last three on Wednesday.

Google said its policy prohibits commercial spyware apps and encourages people to report any apps that violate its standards.

Since then, Google has regularly had to purge new creepy entrants into the stalking marketplace, but it has done its best to keep up. Because, as Google stated in its policy above, such apps are prohibited on the app store.

But not in Google's advertisements, apparently, at least up until this past week.

In an ad policy update this week, Google said that beginning August 11 it will prohibit ads for products or services marketed for secretly tracking or monitoring someone. This includes, but is not limited to:

Spyware and technology used for intimate partner surveillance including but not limited to spyware/malware that can be used to monitor texts, phone calls, or browsing history; GPS trackers specifically marketed to spy or track someone without their consent; promotion of surveillance equipment (cameras, audio recorders, dash cams, nanny cams) marketed with the express purpose of spying.

Credit where it's due: Google's change in policy is good. And, given the massive ecosystem that is Google's advertising system, it's easy to imagine how the company might not have been initially prepared for the review and purges necessary to keep these sorts of ads off its platform.

But the truth is that's a massively weak caveat, given the nature of these ads. Reading Google's description of the types of ads that are newly banned, it practically yanks the follow up question out of your mouth: Wait, why did you ever allow ads for this sort of thing in the first place? As the Gizmodo post notes, Google has been aware of just how big a problem stalkerware has been on its platforms since at least 2018, and almost certainly before. How has this possibly taken this long?

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Filed Under: ads, android, ban, stalkerware
Companies: google


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 10:18pm

    Techdirt uses Cookies for the same purpose, right? Stalkerware. Tracking people over time, seeing what they do, and selling the result.

    Let's say you're a trial lawyer, and you want to influence a jury in a real case. Just pay Techdirt. They will write an article about your case, using the actual names of the companies or individuals involved in a legal dispute. Then they will post with fake names various ideas, and see how the pubic responds. They will examine the responses, track down the people and their ideas, and sell them to their "sponsors", with an analysis and a recommendation.

    Cookies. Spyware. Malware. Stalkerware. Techdirt has it all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 11:02pm

      Re:

      Where's your proof? I'm guessing you just pulled that bunch of mumbo-jumbo out of your ass.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 11:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Well they haven't denied it, they haven't denied any of it. That's pretty compelling evidence of guilt right there, for everyone to see.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rocky, 15 Jul 2020 @ 5:17am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Have you stopped kicking puppies yet?

          You haven't denied it, you haven't denied any of it. That's pretty compelling evidence of guilt right there, for everyone to see.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 11:26pm

      Re:

      Let's say you're a trial lawyer, and you want to influence a jury in a real case. Just pay Techdirt. They will write an article about your case, using the actual names of the companies or individuals involved in a legal dispute. Then they will post with fake names various ideas, and see how the pubic responds. They will examine the responses, track down the people and their ideas, and sell them to their "sponsors", with an analysis and a recommendation.

      What the fuck....?

      No, we have never done anything even remotely close to that nor would we ever do that. You have some pretty fucked up delusions, dude. Get help.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 11:30pm

      Re:

      Cookies. Spyware. Malware. Stalkerware. Techdirt has it all.

      Also, this is bullshit. We have cookies, because every site has cookies. But we don't do spyware, malware, stalkerware, because we're not assholes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2020 @ 11:13am

      Re:

      Whiskey tango alpha foxtrot, bro.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Jul 2020 @ 12:05am

    ... brilliant.

    Sounds like the people running the app store either forgot to send a memo to maybe stop accepting ads for that sort of spyware to the ad department, or the ad people got the memo and figured it wasn't worth paying attention to because look at the money the sellers of the spyware people were handing over!

    Whatever the case while it's certainly an improvement it's just a tad insane that it took so long before the two bans, never mind that they allowed such apps in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 15 Jul 2020 @ 6:26am

    Just out of curiosity...

    I know Google makes a gazillion dollars from advertising, but was the profit from the spyware apps really that much that they couldn't have done this sooner, as Tim indicated?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, 15 Jul 2020 @ 2:40pm

    Q.
    "How has this possibly taken this long?"
    A.
    "In all, they had been installed more than 130,000 times."

    Assuming such apps are not free, I would guess the reason is "profits".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2020 @ 5:36pm

      Re:

      130,000 installations, spread over 7 different apps, that will barely register in any list of app popularity in the Android ecosystem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2020 @ 1:16am

    Such programs can be defeated by doing a factory reset on your phone

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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