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Google pulls 'stalker apps' from Play Store

TechRadar logo TechRadar 18/07/2019 Mike Moore
a screenshot of a computer: The Employee Work Spy app in action (Image credit: Avast) © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. The Employee Work Spy app in action (Image credit: Avast)

Google has pulled seven apps from the Play Store after allegations they allowed users to stalk unsuspecting victims.

The seven apps, all apparently built by the same Russian-based developer, were detected by security firm Avast, which alerted Google to their features.

The company says that the apps could have been used to follow employees, children, family members and even romantic partners without their permission.

Stalker apps

Avast says it initially detected four stalking apps, before uncovering a further three from the same developer on the Play Store.

These latter three offerings included "Spy Tracker" which was supposedly designed to help parents track their kids' movements and access messages and call history. 

Read more: FBI to investigate FaceApp over government data privacy fears (Huffington Post)

Also revealed was "SMS Tracker" which could be installed on work phones to let employers follow every move their employees made on their device, including geo-tracking to see what time they arrived at work, as well as noting call history, and messages. 

The third app, "Employee Work Spy" worked in a similar way to the parent/child tracker, but would have again allowed company bosses to track employee movements, read text messages and access call history, all under the pretence of protecting the device from malicious workers.

The apps were detected using Avast's mobile threat detection platform apklab.io, which discovered that these services had been installed more than 130,000 times, with the most installed both having more than 50,000 installs.

Watch: 'US regulators approve £4m Facebook settlement over privacy issues' (Reuters)

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“These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people’s privacy and shouldn’t be on the Google Play Store, as they promote criminal behavior, and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims," noted Nikolaos Chrysaidos, head of mobile threat intelligence and security at Avast. 

"Some of these apps are offered as parental control apps, but their descriptions draw a different picture, telling users the app allows them to ‘keep an eye on cheaters’. We classify such apps as stalkerware, and using apklab.io we can identify such apps quickly, and collaborate with Google to get them removed.”

Slideshow: Twenty-five times big businesses bowed to public pressure (lovemoney)

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