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Google takes down Android apps used for stalking

Google has removed seven apps from its Play Store after researchers from Avast highlighted the troubling nature of the software. Each of the apps was designed to keep tabs on another Android user without their consent, and would barely hide their intent, with names such as “Employee Work Spy,” “Spy Kids Tracker” and “Track Employees Check Work Phone Online Spy Free.”

Once installed, the apps collected data like location, text and call history and sent them through to the person who installed them, without any way of the phone owner knowing.

A number of things united the apps. Firstly, Avast notes they were all “likely” designed by a Russian developer. Secondly, each one prompted the user to download other software once downloaded, leaving no app icon to arouse suspicion from the target. 

And while all of the apps required direct access to the phone to install, it’s easy to imagine how this would have been achieved for romantic partners and parents. Indeed, between them, the apps had been installed a total of 130,000 times at the time of their removal.

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These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people’s privacy and shouldn’t be on the Google Play Store,” said Avast’s Nikolaos Chrysaidos, who identified the dubious software. “They promote criminal behavior, and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims. We classify such apps as stalkerware, and using apklab.io we can identify such apps quickly, and collaborate with Google to get them removed.”

While some of the apps were nominally marketed at intrusive parents – something of an ethical grey area – CNET notes that plenty of the reviews for Spy Tracker made it clear they were using it to track partners, something it’s impossible to make a legitimate defence of.

Does Google need to do more to tackle stalking apps? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews.

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