The seven stalkware apps were identified by Avast.
Google recently took down several people tracking Android apps from the Play Store. Avast found seven Android apps designed to allow anyone to stalk kids, partners, employees, and other Android users without their permission or knowledge.
Google took down the apps after Avast, a security firm known for its antivirus software, discovered that they were primarily developed to enable stalking. Google stated it prohibits commercial spyware apps, encouraging users to report applications that breach policy.
Avast reported that a stalker would need to have physical access to the target’s phone to install the app. Once installed, the app would be able to access sensitive details like text messages, location and call history. The apps allow stalkers to track their victims on a desktop and hides telltale clues on snooping.
While most Stalkerware apps are frequently pitched as software designed for child safety and employee monitoring, CNET found that Spy Tracker was being used to stalk romantic partners. CNET noted that the app had a total of 130,000 downloads.
Nikolas Chrysaidos, head of mobile threat intelligence and security for Avast said, “These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people's privacy and shouldn't be on the Google Play Store, as they promote criminal behaviour, and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims. Some of these apps are offered as parental control apps, but their descriptions draw a different picture, telling users the app allows them to 'keep an eye on cheaters.”
Several companies that develop antivirus software like Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, Lookout, and Symantec have also begun to step-up their efforts to block stalkware apps. Avast also mentioned that its threat detection tool warns users of stalkware.The Avast report illustrates the challenges Google faces in keeping stalkware apps out of the Play Store. It also shows how these apps can get past the search giant’s automated app screening, despite being designed with malicious intent.