Google is correcting a “typo” in its Play Store “stalkerware” policy that currently suggests that apps can be used to track spouses. Stalkerware and other tracking software are dangerous, say campaigns, because it can facilitate domestic abuse and harassment of partners. As it is written, the policy also incorrectly states that parents cannot track their children.
The updated developer policy, which takes effect on October 1, now explicitly states that Play Store apps that allow parents to track their children are acceptable, but that they cannot be used to track adults (like a spouse) without their knowledge or permission. .
Here is the relevant section from the current developer policy to be corrected (emphasis added):
Legitimate forms of these apps can not used by parents to track their children. But these apps Can be used to track a person (such as a spouse) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent report is displayed while the data is being transmitted.
Here is the same section of the new policy, which enters into force on October 1
Approved forms of these apps Can used by parents to track their children. But these apps can not be used to track a person (such as a spouse) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent report is displayed while data is being transmitted.
Apart from a couple of other minor word changes, the rest of the Stalkerware policy seems to be more or less unchanged from August. Google’s rules state that apps may not mislead users about their tracking functionality. Apps must “present users with a persistent notification and unique icon that clearly identifies the app” and they must not hide tracking behavior. They must also be explicitly designed and marketed as parental monitoring or business management apps, rather than a “spy or covert surveillance solution.” Google has confirmed to The border that this persistent tracking message must be displayed, even when an app is designed so that parents can track their children.
Google’s rule statement comes among a broader campaign to crack down on stalkerware. These apps are often marketed as a way for jealous or suspicious partners to keep track of another, and are designed to trick users into thinking they are not being monitored, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The coalition against Stalkerware, which the EFF helped find last year, says surveillance like this can facilitate “gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual abuse.”
Back in July, Google announced a ban on spyware or surveillance advertising with a new advertising policy that went into effect on August 11, although a TechCrunch rapport then found ads for these apps after the ban took effect.
In addition to yesterday’s error correction, Google also updated its policy regarding incorrect presentation and gaming apps. It has clarified that “coordinated activity that incorrectly portrays or hides the origin of an app or content” is a violation of its policy, and that a state-published gaming app is now allowed in Brazil. These policies will take effect on October 21.