Google has ‘formally’ banned any stalkerware apps from their Play Store, but large loopholes have been left which allow stalkerware to be uploaded as child-tracking apps onto the Play Store. Stalkerware apps track a user’s movement, listen to calls, view messages and record other app’s activity on the user’s device. They are typically advertised as a way to track children to keep them safe online or to track cheating partners. They are installed and run on a user’s device without their knowledge, and function by operating in the operating system’s background. Google’s app store has had many ‘stalkerware’ apps in their Playstore, and have tried to remove them upon recommendations by security researchers, but they tend not to make any public statements on these matters.
Google has updated its Developer Programme Policy so that stalkerware apps require ‘adequate notice or consent’ as well as ‘persistent notifications’ if downloaded. These rules will come into effect next month, on 1st October. However, apps that monitor children do not need to ask for consent or give notice, with this loophole allowing access for stalkers. Therefore, this loophole can allow stalkerware apps to simply rebrand themselves as child-tracking apps, and continue as they were.