Google took a hard stance on stalkerware in 2020, publicly stating that it would ban related ads and apps from Google searches and the Google Play Store. But, a couple of years after its public commitment, it appears that stalkerware ads can still commonly be found on Google, questioning whether the company has really committed to the removal of these controversial products.
Stalkerware is designed to secretly monitor a person or significant other
If unfamiliar, stalkerware or spyware, is designed to secretly monitor a person or significant other. The apps tend to collect personal or sensitive information without revealing that it is doing so. While each app can differ, they are usually capable of recording a wide variety of information, including but not limited to location, phone calls, messages, keystrokes, and more.
While apps and ads related to stalkware are banned, Google does make an exemption for apps that are meant for parents to track their children or apps made for business. Developers of these kinds of apps must still comply with certain requirements. Since these ads and apps can still exist within Google’s ecosystem, it has made it clear that these apps cannot be misused.
Through its research, Certo Software and MIT Technology Review were able to confirm that search queries in Google still came up with results related to tracking or spying applications. These ads are clearly marketed toward people that require tools to spy on significant others. What makes some of these companies a bit dubious is that on their websites, they market their tools to parents looking to monitor their children. But, MIT Technology Review found that those companies “bought ads against terms relating to people spying digitally on their partners.”
When reached for comment, Google stated: “We do not allow ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance. We’ve reviewed the ads in question and are removing those that violate our policy.” While Google has removed some of the search results, there are plenty that remain. Of course, with this kind of work, there isn’t a dedicated team of hundreds of people. Instead, Google is relying on an algorithm. It is a daunting task, but will Google be able to properly remove and ban stalkerware ads from its platform?