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Google bans stalkerware apps from Android store. Which is cool but... why were they allowed in the first place?

Disclosed tracking, helicopter parenting programs are still kosher

In an update to its Android Developer Program Policy, Google on Wednesday said stalkerware apps in its app store can no longer be used to stalk non-consenting adults.

Stalkerware, which the web giant defines as "code that transmits personal information off the device without adequate notice or consent and doesn't display a persistent notification that this is happening," may still be used for keeping track of one's kids.

But starting October 1, 2020, the ad biz says it's no longer acceptable for Android apps in the Google Play Store to track another person, such as a spouse, without permission, unless there's a persistent visible notification that data is being transmitted.

The ban follows a similar prohibition in August on Google-served ads for "spyware and technology used for intimate partner surveillance," which reportedly hasn't worked very well.

In recent years, computer security experts have argued that the privacy and security risks in intimate relationships remain haven't been adequately anticipated or addressed.

But rules against invasive behavior aren't necessarily effective. Via Twitter, Michael Veale, a lecturer at University College London, observed that a 2018 research paper "found that 'abusers frequently exploit dual-use applications—tools whose main purpose is legitimate but that can be easily repurposed to function as spyware,' so banning explicit stalkerware of questionable efficacy."

Google will continue to allow non-stalkerware apps (i.e. policy compliant apps) to monitor and track people, provided the programs are not marketed as surveillance apps, they disclose any such functions, and they present the requisite persistent notification and icon.

Monitoring apps of the permissible sort continue to be subject to removal for violating applicable laws in the locations where they're published, and may not link to resources (e.g. servers, SDKs) that provide policy violating functions or non-compliant APKs hosted outside the Google Play Store.

Google's developer policy update also includes a ban on misrepresentation, both for apps and developer accounts. Apps or accounts that impersonate a person or organization, or attempt to conceal the app's purpose or ownership, or engage in coordinated misleading activity, are no longer allowed.

Online gambling apps have been disallowed too, except for in Brazil (with government approval), France, Ireland, and the UK. ®

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