back to article Google bans stalkerware apps from Android store. Which is cool but... why were they allowed in the first place?

In an update to its Android Developer Program Policy, Google on Wednesday said stalkerware apps in its app store can no longer be used to stalk non-consenting adults. Stalkerware, which the web giant defines as "code that transmits personal information off the device without adequate notice or consent and doesn't display a …

  1. First Light Bronze badge

    Stalking app?

    Do they have an app for *protecting* victims from stalking? That would be actually useful, instead of the many useless apps they have.

    Google's desire to easily track us all the time runs contrary to the needs of some of us to absolute privacy - if such a thing even exists any more. I wonder if they have ever been sued by someone whose location was exposed this way, and suffered the consequences. If not, they should be. That's often the most powerful way to effect change in the US, especially since the current government couldn't be bothered to regulate anything except protests.

    Some abusers will stop at nothing. A friend worked for a UK domestic violence charity. Some shelter locations were exposed through the abusive parent giving their own kid a toy with a tracking device hidden inside. Tech is supposed to make things easier, unfortunately bad or criminal behavior becomes easier also.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Stalking app?

      Well, they are starting a program where people can report stalking apps*. Any app reported there will be reviewed by a team they're creating*. Any app deemed to be targeting nonconsenting adults will be removed immediately and added to Play Protect*, and the people whose devices were affected will receive information about what was happening to them and helpful resources to be assembled by a partnership between Google and organizations who help victims of domestic abuse*.

      *None of those things are actually happening. Google, these suggestions are released in the public domain. Please pick them up.

      1. First Light Bronze badge

        Re: Stalking app?

        Great suggestions.

        In the old days of landline phones, a person receiving a harassing phone call in parts of the US could hit *55 after hanging up. This logged the call with the phone company. After two logged calls from that number, you could report it to the police for harassment. Simple and practical.

        This situation with these apps is why appropriate government regulations are essential, because sadly, many businesses will not act properly without them and tech is not different in that way. It's just taking governments way too long to catch up. Government agencies should investigate the extent to which these apps are being abused and figure out a way to address it.

  2. First Light Bronze badge

    Great photo

    Love the stock photo. She looks like she's about to kick someone's ass.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Problem solved?

    So now we'll see all the stalkerware apps rewrite their terms and privacy agreements so that they can continue. The first page will say "We do not stalk non-consenting adults" and sixteen pages later it will start with "Except in circumstances defined on our website privacy exception page and by continuing to use the app you agree to ..."

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Problem solved?

      The same principle could be used to solve gun crime in the US. All guns sold must have paperwork with them stating the gun can only be used for target practice and never aimed at a human being. Problem solved.

      1. First Light Bronze badge

        Re: Problem solved?

        Good in theory but gun resale is a massive problem.

        In any case now it is possible to 3D print guns, so there's that.

        1. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

          Re: Problem solved?

          3D printed plastic guns have a slight problem, they tend to be completely destroyed by the action of firing them. The 3D adhesive bonds just cannot cut it.

          Meanwhile, some space aged pirateers are now using 3D printed metallic powders to create metallic options.

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  5. DrXym Silver badge

    The amount of ads for this crap...

    I get interstitials on some apps and they seem to fall into 3 general kinds of shady app:

    1. RAID: Shadow Legends. This thing is a pox

    2. Games promising PayPal payouts that you will NEVER EVER SEE. So many damned games promising you'll earn thousands from playing them when in fact they'll just harvest the poor bastards who install them for ad impressions.

    3. Tracker / spy apps

    I'm glad Google are banning spy apps but ban the other stuff too please. PayPal scams are so prevalent that Google should just ban them on sight.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: The amount of ads for this crap...

      Are these the "actors" are of oriental descent, with dubbed US accents and you can earn £150 then the next bit it is showing €10,000, all in 5 seconds of playing?

      You'll be glad to know you get them on Apple as well. Unity Ads is the scum agency that pushes these.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: The amount of ads for this crap...

        Yes indeed. I'm amazed that Apple & Google don't blacklist these advertisers and publishers. Their ads heavily push the PayPal cash angle but then the appstore description uses words like "prize". And all the comments are people complaining that they were scammed.

  6. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Stasi

    I lived in a wee miners village in Scotland, 47 houses, 104 cats. A local woman (that's me being polite) teamed up with a developer to turn it into a town and a rally track. Everyone else objected.

    We caught her using a tape recorder in her handbag to record private conversations to blackmail folk. Only because we heard it click off.

    My first thought was I am techie, I could easily record every house without being caught. My second thought was, Jeez, that was a horrific first thought.

    We stopped the development using the normal, banal, moral means.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Stasi

      I'm genuinely interested to know what a "rally track" is. Rallying takes place (usually)* on courses through forests** or [closed] public roads. Rallycross, on the other hand, is the bastard child of cheap TV coverage and people wanting burgers while they watch sport, so does take place on a fixed track. To be honest, I wouldn't want one near me, either.

      * A "multi-use" rally takes place usually on a disused** airfield or other military ground, e.g. the Otterburn ranges

      ** E.g. Keilder or Dalby forests

      Though sometimes still used by the military

  7. FordPrefect

    Great they are doing this...

    However whats to stop a jealous, abusive spouse from installing the app thats fine because its just for tracking kids?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Great they are doing this...

      Nothing at all, which is why several companies are writing those apps right now, because tracking one's children is a normal and healthy thing to do. They will ensure that no child can detect or disable these, no matter how technically skilled, or motivated, or terrified of the [stalker] [user] [client] parent.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Great they are doing this...

        "tracking one's children is a normal and healthy thing to do"

        Erm... No? You trust your children or you don't. I can understand having it as an emergency option for (a) at-risk children of wealthy or politically exposed people in countries where kidnapping is common, and (b) children with a history or signs of troubling / destructive behavior.

        Otherwise its absolutely not normal

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Great they are doing this...

          Me: "tracking one's children is a normal and healthy thing to do"

          Reply: "Erm... No? You trust your children or you don't."

          Forgive me. I was not clear enough. I intended my original phrase to be very sarcastic. I think those apps should be thrown out at the same time and for the same reasons. That Google thinks it is normal to do that makes me glad I don't interact with them.

          1. Falmari

            Re: Great they are doing this...

            Damn its late even as a Brit I missed the sarcasm :)

            1. DwarfPants

              Re: Great they are doing this...

              I also missed the sarcasm.

              I trust my children to be doing all the things I did as a youth that you would not want your parents to know about.

              As a parent rather than use an app to track them, I fall back to the tried and tested methodology of imparting wisdom that you can see being ignored at the time of delivery and concern/worry/alarm (situation dependent). If all else fails I try to ignore, retire to the shed, and purge real life from my head.

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Great they are doing this...

      I interpret the article to say that the child tracker apps are obliged (from now anyway) to run openly, so that a child or adult using a device knows that this software is running and what it does. They just probably need to be able to read. I don't know how blind users will manage though, but then I don't know that generally. iPhones are increasingly haptic...

  8. Blackjack Silver badge

    Where is my phone?

    My Nokia 1 has an inbuilt app to locate the phone that keeps enabling itself no matter how many times I disable it. Wanna guess how similar apps can be used to locate another adult phone quite easily?

  9. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Facepalm

    More irony...

    "code that transmits personal information off the device without adequate notice or consent and doesn't display a persistent notification that this is happening"

    I'm struggling to decide which is the greater irony, this or Google subjecting customers to ethical review...

    1. Falmari

      Google's belief

      I don't see any irony, just Google enforcing their belief that only they have the right to track you.

  10. mark l 2 Silver badge

    What surprised me about this article is that online gambling apps are only allowed on Google Play if they operate in Brazil, France, Ireland, and the UK. I know from watching American TV and film that the US doesn't allow gambling apart from in a few places such as Vegas. But I would have thought more of the ROW would have allowed it than just 4 countries, 3 of which are next to each other.

  11. knarf

    Only Google is allowed to Stalk you

    Unless you turn off all the tracking...... hhahahahahahaha its never turned off.

  12. macjules Silver badge
    Coat

    All sounds very paranoid

    Perhaps they should invent and app named ‘Marvin’ ? ‘Paranoid’ .. ‘Android’ ...?

    Never mind.

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