Google says it will ban 'stalkerware' apps that secretly transmit people's location and personal information without their knowledge

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  • Google says it will ban stalkerware apps on the Google Play store beginning on Oct. 1 — but with some exceptions.
  • The new policy is meant to crack down on apps built to collect personal information on someone's device and secretly send it to another person, like a controlling spouse or partner.
  • However, Google will continue to allow parental control apps that do the same thing — but apps will now have to show users a notification when they're being tracked.
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Google is cracking down on "stalkerware" apps on the Google Play store. Starting next month, the company will ban all apps that secretly transmit people's personal information without their knowledge, it announced Wednesday.

The announcement builds on Google's preexisting policy that broadly banned "deceptive behavior" in apps. However, even under that policy, several stalkerware apps routinely slipped through the cracks.

Stalkerware apps are typically designed to be hidden or undetectable and can transmit information about what apps a person is using, who they're in contact with, and the contents of their files and photo libraries. Because they're often hidden, they're ripe for abuse and can be used by people who want full control over a user, like a boss or an overbearing spouse.
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However, Google will still allow parental control apps, which can carry out the same functions as stalkerware apps, possibly leaving a loophole open. The difference is that apps will now have to display a persistent icon that tells users they're being tracked, making it harder for them to operate in secret.

Google previously banned stalkerware makers from advertising their apps on its ad platform, but struggled to immediately enforce that ban. Last month, TechCrunch reported that several of those companies were still running ads through Google's platform despite violating the policy.

This week, the Google Play store also announced that it will ban apps that "misrepresent or conceal their ownership or primary purpose." The scope of that policy is vague. It isn't immediately clear whether it applies to apps that present themselves as services like VPNs or Ad Blockers in order to get people to download them, and then mine information from people's phones — like their location or what other apps they use — and sell that data.
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A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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