Google fixes policy that appeared to let apps track cheating spouses

Google has amended a confusing policy that appeared to permit smartphone apps that let people keep tabs on their cheating spouses.

The tech giant issued an update Wednesday to its Google Play store policy governing “stalkerware” apps, which track the user’s location and other personal information without their knowledge.

These apps — sometimes marketed as tools to help catch cheating spouses — are made to trick users into believing that they’re not being tracked, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group.

They pose a threat because they can facilitate “gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual abuse,” says the Coalition Against Stalkerware, a campaign against the technology that was set up last year.

A previous version of Google’s stalkerware policy that took effect in August said apps “can be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission” — but also required them to display a notification and an icon that identified the app.

It also said parents could not use them to track their children even though another clause explicitly allowed apps created for “parental (including family) monitoring.”

The new policy, which takes effect Oct. 1, more clearly allows kid-tracking apps but bans those that a jealous lover might use to surreptitiously track their partner’s movements.

“Acceptable forms of these apps can be used by parents to track their children,” the revised language reads. “However, these apps cannot be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent notification is displayed while the data is being transmitted.”

The new policy still requires apps to show a notification and an icon even when they’re being used to track children, according to The Verge, which earlier reported on Google’s change.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning.

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