Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP)  Google has yanked several apps from its Play Store after cybersecurity firm Avast identifies them as "most likely designed by a Russian developer to allow people to stalk employees, romantic partners, or kids," CNET reported on Wednesday.
The seven apps -Listed as Track Employees Check Work Phone Spy Online, Spy Kids Tracker, Phone Cell Tracker, Mobile Tracking, Spy Tracker, SMS Tracker, and Employee Work Spy-identified by Avast , and the content of text messages. According to BleepingComputers WhatsApp and Viber if the targeted device was rooted. Avast wrote that the seven apps were collectively installed over 130,000 times and included instructions on how to "uninstall anything noticeable to the phone's owner," making them ideal for stalking.
One of the apps, Employee Work Spy, to be used in the working hours, according to Avast:  Finding a skilled employee is only half a job. The biggest challenge is to keep it faithful to the company and its mission. A lot of employees may just be skipping during work hours.
The Spy Tracker app has been advertised itself as a parents to keep a taboo on a child's activities, noting "It's better to talk to children, but if you are not a good listener … "
According to CNET, Google removed four of the apps on Tuesday and the remaining three on Wednesday after being released by Avast. Spy Tracker, for example, had some reviews on their spouses phones without their consent. Another cached page for SMS Tracker is a review of which the developer is a "pro ethical hacker" before mentioning the app helped him "track my spouse's sms remotely."
"These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people's privacy and should not be on the Google Play Store Nikolaos Chrysaidos told CNET in a statement, "They are promoting criminal behavior, and may be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims." "Some of these apps are offered as parental control apps, but their descriptions draw a different picture."
As Engadget noted, the apps were only mildly popular "Avast's security tools, but a recent article in the MIT Technology Review, highlighted the pervasiveness of stalkerware. Kapersky principal security researcher David Emm has published his article 58,000 instances of stalkerware in 2018, while he said: "The growing role of technology in Partner abuse is not confined to stalkerware. The domestic violence charity Refuge estimates that around 95% of its cases involve some form of technology-based abuse, whether by means of parental control apps, employee tracking, or even just obsessive tracking of a partner's location using Google Maps or Find My Friends , As the world changes, so do abusers' methods.
In 2017, Motherboard reported that SecureDrop leaks to two hackers showed two spyware companies, Retina-X and FlexiSpy, had approximately 130,000 users.
"People think This issue is not, but that's not true, "Cornell computer science researcher Rahul Chatterjee, co-author of a recent study that identified hundreds of apps that could have been used for surveillance of an intimate partner, told MIT Technology Review. It's one in three women and one in six men [who have experienced an abusive relationship]. That's millions of millions in the US alone. We can not ignore this any longer. "
That Apple has found restrictions on iOS (both on which it allows apps to use and makes it easy for users to sideload apps from outside its official channels) remote surveillance more difficult than on devices using Google's Android mobile OS. Functionality varied from "basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video," according to the New York Times, though on iOS accessing data other than location required a target's username and password. Stalking in response to a spokesperson's sentence would also be "stalking in response."
Violent lawsuits against stalking, wiretapping, or hacking , the Times wrote, there have been a few cases in which developers were found liable. StealthGenie under laws prohibiting advertising or selling "surreptitious interception" devices used for spying.
In addition to Avast and Kapersky, security firms Symantec, Malwarebytes, and Lookout have stalkerware, according to CNET.
[Avast via CNET]