Stalkerware ads removed by Google that encouraged spying on partners

News / Stalkerware ads removed by Google that encouraged spying on partners

Stalkerware ads removed by Google that encouraged spying on partners

Google has taken down several advertisements that promoted apps which are being referred to as ‘stalkerware’. These particular ads were pulled due to their encouragement of spying on a spouse’s phone. 

Stalkerware is a variant of spyware that is used for cyberstalking and is most commonly used and marketed towards parents who wish to monitor their child’s activity on their phone, such as calls, messages, photos and location. 

However, these surreptitious apps have been repurposed by abusers to spy on their partner’s phones. Hence, therefore why Google has now taken action to remove the advertisements encouraging the downloading of apps for such activities. 

“We do not allow ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance. We immediately removed the ads that violated this policy and will continue to track emerging behaviours to prevent bad actors from trying to evade our detection systems,” a Google spokesperson said. 

This comes after a recent response in the past few years to the rise in stalkerware. The Coalition Against Stalkerware was founded in 2019 and less than a year later had doubled in its size. 

In August last year, Google banned ads that promoted apps that are designed “with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorisation.” 

The tech giant says their policies ban ads that promote intimate partner surveillance, but do not however extend to ads that promote tracking a child’s activities or a workplace monitoring employees. 

A member of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, Malwarebytes, has described Google’s policy as “incomplete” as it allows stalkerware developers to “skirt the rules by changing the face of what they’re selling, without changing the core technology within.” 

Developers have managed to circumvent Google’s policies by using separate domains to promote their apps as well as cleverly hiding pages from search results, according to a report by Techcrunch.  

Apps are marketed as being able to spy on “your kids, husband or wife, grandma or grandpa”, “catch a cheater” and “dispel any doubts in a relationship”. 

Google declined to reveal exactly how their enforcement works, but said they would look at a combination of factors when determining if an ad was in breach of their policies. They said what would be considered included the text and images in the ad, how the product is promoted and the landing pages once an ad is clicked. 

Google says it will hand out three-month suspensions to those who repeatedly violate its ad policies, including for targeting partners through stalkerware apps.

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