Several applications designed to spy on another person’s phone activity have evaded Google advertising filters, despite recent attempts to crack down on so-called stalkerware.
Google issued an updated ads policy in July, which banned vendors from advertising any product used to track or monitor another individual without consent. The company set the relevant organizations a hard deadline of August 11 to remove the offending ads.
However, advertisements for known stalkerware products such as FlexiSpy, mSpy, WebWatcher and KidsGuard were still found to appear in Google search results after the deadline had passed.
Between them, these apps offer the ability to monitor an individual’s texts and audio calls, track GPS location, view web history, access images and videos stored on-device, and more.
Asked about its failure to police the new ads policy, Google explained that the process is likely to be more incremental than immediate and there are exceptions that might allow certain vendors to conduct ad campaigns within the boundaries of the new rules.
“We recently updated our policies to prohibit ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance while still allowing ads for technology that helps parents monitor their underage children,” explained a Google spokesperson.
“To prevent deceitful actors who try to disguise the product’s intent and evade our enforcement, we look at several signals like the ad text, creative and landing page, among others, for policy compliance. When we find an ad or advertiser is violating our policies, we take immediate action.”
The policy has attracted criticism from other stakeholders in the fight against stalkerware, with antivirus vendor Malwarebytes describing Google’s measures as “incomplete” due to the arbitrary distinction drawn between parental monitoring and partner surveillance facilities.
For example, although spyware app KidsGuard is marketed at parents, previous iterations of its website have also said the product can be used to “catch a cheating spouse or monitor employees”.
Other similar companies are equally forthcoming about the potential their applications might be used to invade the privacy of an unwitting victim.