Google has pulled seven apps from the Play Store after mobile threat researchers at Avast discovered they allowed people to stalk employees, kids, or romantic partners. Avast reported four of the apps to Google on Tuesday, after which they were quickly removed from the Play Store. The other three apps were reported on Wednesday and have also been pulled.
The apps required the perpetrator to gain access to the target’s phone and then install the app to begin spying. They were then prompted to enter their email address and password so the spying app could be sent there. After that, snoops could access sensitive information such as the target’s location, contacts, SMS, and call history. It is almost impossible for the target to detect the spying app as the snoop can hide all signs of the app from the targeted phone, including icons.
The spying apps were published on the Play Store as being tools designed to help parents to monitor their kids or help employers monitor work time of their employees. Among the seven apps that have been removed by Google, Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker were the most popular, both installed more than 50,000 times. All of the seven apps combined were installed more than 130,000 times.
Nikolaos Chrysaidos, head of mobile threat intelligence and security at Avast, said in a statement:
These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people’s privacy and shouldn’t be on the Google Play Store, 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, and using apklab.io we can identify such apps quickly, and collaborate with Google to get them removed.