Google Bans Stalkerware Ads From its Pages

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Google has updated its advertising policy to effectively ban stalkerware from its pages.

The tech giant announced the move in an update to its Enabling Dishonest Behavior policy. Although it didn’t mention the category by its more commonly known name, the firm said it will “prohibit the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization.”

Stalkerware is a type of monitoring tool downloaded secretly to a victim’s device, where it spies on their communications, location, photos and web browsing.

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.”

Figures released by Kaspersky in March this year to coincide with International Women’s Day revealed that the number of victims targeted by stalkerware jumped 91% in the UK from 2018 to 2019, while the global figure was 67%.

Although the AV vendor detected 67,500 cases worldwide over the period, this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, Avast research has revealed a sharp rise in downloads following COVID-19 lockdowns. It claimed that installations of stalking apps in the UK rose 83% from March, versus January and February figures.

The new Google policy will come into force on August 11.

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