Google’s banning ads for so-called “stalkerware” apps, invasive programs largely associated with jealous exes or abusive partners to spy on another person without their authorisation. Though given that the online search giant already adopted a blanket ban against stalkerware apps in its Play Store, one has to wonder why such ads were still allowed to begin with.
Better late than never, I suppose.
In an ad policy update this week, Google said that beginning August 11 it will prohibit ads for products or services marketed for secretly tracking or monitoring someone. This includes, but is not limited to:
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.
Essentially, any kind of digital surveillance tech that hinges on the person being watched not knowing what’s up. Exceptions to this ban include apps and services aimed at private investigations and helicopter parents looking to monitor their underage children.
Advertisers that fail to abide by this new policy will see their accounts suspended with at least a seven-day warning ahead of time.
Google’s been ramping up efforts to crack down on its stalkerware problem, particularly after a 2018 study found it hosted thousands of ads for hidden surveillance tech specifically calling out to people who wanted to cyberstalk their significant other. Several of the ads discovered included on-the-nose pitches like “How to catch a cheating spouse with his cell phone” and “Track My Wife’s Phone — Want to Spy on your Wife? Track your Wife without her knowing.”
Google’s taken steps to restrict these ads from popping up for some of the more damning search terms an abuser might use, but many continue to slip through the cracks. Despite its blanket app store ban, the company occasionally purges batches of stalkerware apps from its Play Store that managed to avoid being flagged.
The sad thing is, these stalkerware apps are a prevalent problem for a reason. A NortonLifeLock study released in February found that almost half of Americans admitted to cyberstalking a partner or ex in some form. These methods included snooping on their partner’s phone, creating a fake profile to stalk them on social media, or using an app to secretly monitor their online activity and location data — with men being more than twice as likely as women to rely on cyberstalking apps.