Google has pulled seven apps from the Play Store after cyber-security researchers at Avast claimed that they were enabling users to stalk on their employees and romantic partners by posing as children’s safety apps or phone-finder apps.
In a blog post last week, Avast said that the apps were likely designed by a Russian developer and, were being openly used to track the surveilled person’s location and collect their contacts, SMS and call history. In all, the apps had been installed more than 130,000 times from the Play Store, with the most popular being Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker, both with more than 50,000 installs.
“These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people’s privacy and shouldn’t be on the Google Play Store”, Nikolaos Chrysaidos, Avast’s head of mobile threat intelligence and security, said in a statement last week. “They promote criminal behavior, and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims. We classify such apps as stalkerware”, he added.
It’s hard to tell if your device has stalkerware installed on it as you will not see an app icon on your smartphone. The apps require the person to have access to the phone they want to spy on. The person can download the apps from the Google Play Store and install them on the target device. The app then prompts the person who installed the app to enter their email address and password. The spying app is sent there.
“Upon setup, there is no app icon, so the targeted person does not see any sign of the stalkerware app installed on their phone”, said Avast. For example, the description of “Spy Tracker” app on Google Play read: “Find out more about your child’s life, interests, friends and plans. Parents are responsible for every step that their kids make. So this app is created to monitor them and protect them from dangers that can be revealed via cell phone”.
With inputs from IANS