Google has removed seven apps from the Google Play Store after research from antivirus maker Avast found them to be stalkerware. The apps allow snoopers to secretly track and spy on phones they were installed on.
All seven apps were created by the same Russian developer and could forward phone data via email to anyone that installed them. All of the apps allowed snoopers the ability to access all kinds of sensitive information, including device location, contact lists, SMS messages, call history, and, according to BleepingComputer, are able to intercept messages sent via encrypted services such as WhatsApp and Viber if the target phone was rooted.
Avast reported four of the apps to Google directly on Tuesday, all of which were immediately pulled. The other three apps were removed on Wednesday. The apps were published under the following names:
- Track Employees Check Work Phone Online Spy Free
- Spy Kids Tracker
- Phone Cell Tracker
- Mobile Tracking
- Spy Tracker
- SMS Tracker
- Employee Work Spy
Being able to secretly track another person’s phone or movement is something you’d expect to see in a spy movie, not available as a downloadable app on the Google Play Store. That said, the stalkerware apps still require any potential snoopers to gain direct access to a target device and then install in order to be able to snoop freely.
Nikolaos Chryhsaidos, 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.
Once installed, all it required was an email address and password so that all data could be sent to that inbox. What is more concerning is that once installed, the phone owner wouldn’t be aware or able to detect the spying app. It’s possible to hide all signs of the app running.
The stalkerware apps were installed an estimated 130,000 times, cumulatively, with Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker being the most popular of these shady apps — managing more than 50,000 installs each. If you think you might have been affected, it might be worth wiping your Android phone.
More on Android:
- ‘Not designed for children’ warning appearing on some Play Store listings
- Chinese developer CooTek gets Google Play Store ban for shady ad practices
- Latest Google One promo is a $.99 Play Store movie rental