Google Bans Stalkerware Ads From Its Pages
Google has announced that they have planned to ban ads that promote stalkerware, spyware, and other forms of surveillance technology which could be used to track other persons without their knowledge. This new announcement was made as part of an upcoming update to Google Ads policies, which will come into effect on August 11, 2020.
It’s commonly marketed by developers as a way for parents to monitor their children, or for adults to check whether their partners are having an affair. In reality, it is all-too-often used by domestic abusers, stalkers and violent ex-partners.
Google made it clear that the new policy doesn’t apply to “private investigation services” or tools designed to help parents monitor underage children.
The advertising ban will apply to the following:
“Spyware and technology used for intimate partner surveillance including but not limited to spyware/malware that can be used to monitor texts, phone calls, or browsing history; GPS trackers specifically marketed to spy or track someone without their consent; promotion of surveillance equipment (cameras, audio recorders, dash cams, nanny cams) marketed with the express purpose of spying.”
Online spying and stalkerware apps have seen an increase of 51% in the months following the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, per findings from cybersecurity software company Avast. Activists have been advocating for more legal protection surrounding stalkerware for years. Abusive partners specifically have taken advantage of such surveillance tools to target and control victims.
Google’s ban on stalkerware ads comes after the antivirus industry has joined together to add detections for stalkerware products in their virus scanning engines. Stalkerware is a type of monitoring tool downloaded secretly to a victim’s device, where it spies on their activities like communications, location, photos and web browsing.
It is specifically designed for couples to check on their loved ones without their knowledge hence stalkerware is also sometimes referred to as spouseware. The use of stalkerware has increased rapidly over the last decade due to the rise in use of smartphones. Also, the stalkerware products are easily available on official app stores.
The good news is that according to independent antivirus testing lab AV-Comparatives and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, detections rates for stalkerware applications on Android and Windows devices have slowly improved, as the issue is gaining more press coverage and security vendors are moving in to address their growing risk.