Some Google ads forced the company to ban some of them for “stalkerware” apps, which can be bought and downloaded by anyone. These consumer-grade spyware apps are often marketed to parents, who want to use them to monitor their child’s activities with the goal of catching any predators in their child’s life.
The company blocked some Google ads
Some apps, often installed without the owner’s permission and sometimes for an abusive purpose, have been repurposed to spy on spouses. The rise in the use of these apps has prompted a response from the industry to stop their spread.
Antivirus companies improved their products to better detect stalkerware, and the government is taking action against malicious spyware makers. Last August, Google banned ads on their website that promoted apps designed to track or monitor someone without their permission.
Still, according to TechCrunch, five apps were still advertising their stalkerware apps on Google, last week. According to Google, the company is aware of this and has taken precautions. It removed the ads that violated the policy and will continue to track emerging behaviors.
The policy seems to be in vain
Google has a policy that bans ads that promote spysware, which usually includes surveillance of an intimate partner. However, the policy does not extend to ads for child tracking or workplace monitoring.
Google’s policy exempts private investigation services, but how enforcement works is unclear. Vocal supporters of Google’s efforts against stalkerware are worried about the policy’s enforcement.
Malwarebytes, a coalition member against stalkerware, said that some companies were “skirting the rules” by only changing their products’ appearance. The company is now asking for stricter laws to combat the growing threat of stalkerware.
Google would not give specifics about how it detects violations of its policies. Still, a spokesperson said that it looks at a variety of factors. These include the text and images in the ad, how the product is promoted, and the landing pages of the ads when clicked.
Tricky techniques to evade the ban
TechCrunch discovered that some stalkerware apps used a variety of techniques to evade the ban on advertising apps for spying on partners, and were still able to get ads approved by Google.
Another stalkerware maker (ClevGuard) offers a Google ad that leads to a page on its website that says its app can be used to “dispel any doubts in a relationship.”
The page was hidden from search engine’s index using a ‘robots’ file. Two other stalkerware apps using the same technique were running ads, which also violated Google’s policies.
PhoneSpector, a spyware maker based on Long Island, NY, ran ads that promoted the app as a way to “catch a cheater.” In September, Google suspended the accounts of advertisers who violated its ad policies by promoting this type of spyware.
Still, the best way to prevent such ads reach our computers is by using an ad blocker. Ad Guardian Plus is one of the best out there. Try it!