There’s been a bit of fuss made about spyware recently. If you don’t know, it’s software that installs itself on your PC or phone and monitors your device usage or even captures your keypresses without you being aware. It doesn’t sound like a good time, right? Unfortunately, there are some people who do not share the reverence of privacy as we do. And if there’s a market for it, there’s probably an app for that market.
It’s for that reason that Google has had to recently remove a host of ads promoting consumer-grade spyware apps on the Play Store. Obviously, if these apps marketed themselves as being a means to break the law — which is what violating someone’s privacy in this way is — then they wouldn’t last very long.
So they market themselves as a means for concerned parents to keep an eye on their kids’ device usage or as a means to catch a suspected cheating spouse.
That doesn’t change the fact that they’re oftentimes made to be installed secretively and without the device owner’s consent, the definition of this so-called ‘stalkerware’.
Spyware here, spyware there, spy-every-ware
Despite Google’s best efforts TechCrunch still found five app makers that were pushing their stalkerware apps out to prospective users. It found that these app makers were using workarounds to evade detection from Google’s banhammer.
According to the report, one such spyware maker ran ads that linked to a webpage outside of the app maker’s domain which was enough to give Google’s detection methods the slip. And it doesn’t stop there.
In a blog post about Google’s updated ad policy last year, Malwarebytes, a leader in the anti-malware field said that the change was a “welcome if incomplete step”. Google’s ad policy explicitly states child monitoring apps and private investigation services are an exception to its new rule.
With the line between stalkerware apps used to spy on a spouse and apps used to monitor your children being difficult to determine, one can see where there might be room for further elaboration.