Google removes seven Russian stalking apps from Play Store

Avast, a security company best known for its antivirus software, has announced that Google removed a number of stalking apps from the Google Play Store found by the security company. A total of seven stalking apps were found in the app store — four on Tuesday and another three on Wednesday — enabling anyone to stalk kids, partners, employees, and others who owned an Android phone without their knowledge or permission.

The apps were created by a Russian developer, according to Avast, which says its mobile threat researchers identified seven stalking apps, four of which were found and reported on Tuesday to Google. The Internet giant removed all four of those apps, according to Avast, followed by another three the security company found and reported on Wednesday.

Collectively, the seven stalker apps had been downloaded around 130,000 times by Android users, the most popular apps having been SMS Tracker and Spy Tracker, each with 50,000 downloads. Other removed apps included Employee Work Spy, Phone Cell Tracker, Mobile Tracking, Spy Kids Tracker, and 'Track Employees Check Work Phone Online Spy Free.'

These products, according to Avast, instructed stalkers on how to install the apps onto the victim's phone, after which point all evidence of the app — such as an icon — were removed, offering the victim no indications that they were being watched.

The apps would deliver info about the victim to the stalker's email address, including things like text message history, location, their contacts, and call logs. This represented a huge privacy violation for victims and could have been a major personal safety risk in the case of spurned ex-lovers or use by dangerous individuals.

Avast says the apps were discovered by its head of mobile threat intelligence and security Nikolaos Chrysaidos, who said:

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 we can identify such apps quickly, and collaborate with Google to get them removed.