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Google fixes failed Stalkerware bug by allowing partner tracking apps



Google is correcting a “typographical error” in its Play Store stalker software policy, which now suggests that programs can be used to track spouses. Election programs and other tracking software are dangerous, election campaigns say, because they can contribute to domestic abuse and harassment of partners. As already written, politics also erroneously says that parents cannot keep track of their children.

The updated developer policy, effective October 1, now explicitly states that Play Store apps that allow parents to track their children are acceptable, but cannot be used to track adults (such as spouses) without their knowledge or permission.

Here is the relevant section of the current developer policy that needs to be corrected (italics added):

Legal forms of these programs can not be used by parents to track their children. However, these programs maybe be used to track a person (spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission, unless a constant notification is displayed during the data transfer.

Here is the same section of the new policy, which enters into force on October 1

(again, italics added). Google has changed the wording from “legal” to “acceptable”, but more importantly, it has changed which programs are allowed and which are prohibited.

Acceptable forms of these programs maybe be used by parents to track their children. However, these programs can not be used to track a person (spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission, unless a constant notification is displayed during the data transfer.

With the exception of a few other minor wording changes, the rest of the Stalkerware policy seems to remain more or less unchanged from August. Google policy states that applications may not mislead users as to their tracking functionality. Apps must “provide users with a constant notification and a unique icon that clearly identifies the app,” and they are not allowed to hide tracking behavior. They should also be clearly designed and marketed as parental monitoring or business management programs, not as “espionage or covert surveillance solutions.” Google confirmed Facet that this ongoing tracking notification should be displayed, even when the program is designed to allow parents to track their children.

An explanation of Google’s policy appears among the broader anti-software campaign. These programs, which are often sold as a way for jealous or suspicious partners to monitor others, are designed to trick users into believing they are not being watched, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The coalition against Stalkerware, which the EFF helped found last year, says such monitoring could contribute to “gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual violence.”

Back in July, Google announced a ban on advertising for spyware or surveillance technology with a new advertising policy that took effect on August 11, although TechCrunch later found advertising for these programs after the ban came into force.

In addition to correcting typos yesterday, Google has also updated its policy on misrepresentation and gambling. He explained that “coordinated activities that distort or obscure the origin of a program or content” are a violation of its policy, and that a government-published gambling application is now allowed in Brazil. This policy will take effect on October 21.


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