“Stalking apps: Google deletes 7 Android trackers from the Play Store - Digital Trends” plus 1 more

“Stalking apps: Google deletes 7 Android trackers from the Play Store - Digital Trends” plus 1 more

Stalking apps: Google deletes 7 Android trackers from the Play Store - Digital Trends

Posted: 17 Jul 2019 12:00 AM PDT

While there are already a bunch of legitimate apps and services that can let you know the whereabouts of family or friends, there are also a few sinister variations that let abusive types spy on partners, among others.

Antivirus firm Avast revealed on Wednesday that its researchers recently uncovered seven so-called "stalkerware" apps on the Google Play Store, all of which have now been removed by the web giant.

Collectively, the apps had been downloaded 130,000 times, suggesting plenty of people may still be using them. Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker were the most popular, reaching a combined total of 50,000 downloads.

In a blog post describing its findings, Avast's Jeff Elder wrote that the apps are most likely used by people keen to stalk a partner, family members, or employees without them knowing.

To use such an app, the snoop must first gain access to the target device so that they can install the spy software.

The software can operate without the phone user's knowledge, as there's no app icon left on the handset or any other indication that the device is being tracked. This is because the initial download — onto the target device — directs the snoop to another site to install the actual stalkerware. Once the download is complete, the snoop is prompted to delete the initial installation, which includes the app icon.

And it's not just the phone's location that the snoop can track. The apps also give access to a handset's contact list, as well as its SMS and call history.

Commenting on the discoveries, Nikolaos Chrysaidos, Avast's head of mobile threat intelligence and security, said: "These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people's privacy and shouldn't be on the Google Play Store," adding, "They promote criminal behavior, and can be abused by employers, stalkers, or abusive partners to spy on their victims."

Google has a team dedicated to keeping malicious apps out of the Play Store. Earlier this year, Google Play product manager Andrew Ahn said the company is working on enhancing its abuse detection technologies and machine learning systems, and also expanding its team of product managers, engineers, policy experts, and operations leaders tasked with keeping dodgy apps out of its Android store.

But the endless uploading of such software can make it a challenging job at times. In 2017, Google revealed it deleted a staggering 700,000 malicious apps from its online store, with 100,000 developers banned from submitting new software in the future.

We've reached out to Google to find out more about its latest efforts to purge the Play Store of stalkerware apps and will update if we hear back.

If you're concerned about the safety of apps you're downloading from the Play Store, we suggest you stick with well-known brands, or hit the web to search for reviews of the app you're interested in to confirm its validity.

For some new ideas on Android apps for your smartphone, you might also want to check out Digital Trends' carefully curated list.

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Tinder tries to break up with the Google Play Store with new payment process - Digital Trends

Posted: 21 Jul 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Tinder is the latest app to join the growing revolt against the fees charged by app stores, with the launch of a new payment process that bypasses the Google Play Store.

Tinder's new default payment process skips the Google Play Store by requiring users to enter their credit card information directly into the dating app, Bloomberg reported, citing Macquarie analyst Ben Schachter. Once users have entered their payment information on Tinder, the app will not only remember the details, but will also remove the option to route payments through the Google Play Store.

"This is a huge difference," Schachter said in an interview. The Google Play Store is an "incredibly high-margin business for Google" that rakes in billions of dollars, Schachter added.

Some developers decided to skip listing their apps on the Google Play Store so that they would not have to give back the standard 30% fee. This is what Epic Games did with Fortnite Mobile, as the massively popular battle royale shooter was distributed through its own website. Meanwhile, some companies such as Netflix and Spotify have removed the option to access subscriptions through their Android apps. This makes people sign up for memberships through their websites, where Google will not be able to take a share.

Tinder's move is a different case, as the app remains listed on the Google Play Store but in open defiance of its requirements. The dating app may be banking on the hope that the Google Play Store will not take down a massively popular app despite the obvious rebellion.

Tinder, as well as the other apps and services that have bypassed app store fees to Google and Apple, are simply seeking to make more money from in-app purchases and subscriptions. While the 30% that Google and Apple collect halves to 15% after the first year after an app's launch, that is still a sizable chunk of the income that developers are losing to app store fees.

We'll have to wait and see whether Google does something about Tinder's new payment process. If no sanctions are made, this may break the ice for other apps and services to do the same, which will result in lost income for the Google Play Store.

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