Starting next month, Google will ban ads that promote spyware, stalkerware, and surveillance apps.
The company decided to update its restrictions on dishonest behavior by including the surveillance products, which can often be sold to people looking to spy on their partners.
“The updated policy will prohibit the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization,” Google said in the update.
The company points to stalkerware as an example. This class of spyware is specifically designed to help a user monitor the digital activities of a romantic partner, without their permission. Once installed on the partner’s phone, the stalkerware can secretly monitor texts, phone calls, and the browsing history of the device.
According to antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, stalkerware installs among its users appear to be increasing. In 2019, the class of spyware was detected on devices from 67,500 unique users, which is up from 40,386 in 2018.
In addition to stalkerware, Google will also ban ads for GPS trackers and surveillance cameras that are marketed for the express purpose of spying. If an advertising customer violates the policy, the company will first issue a warning, giving them seven days before initiating an account suspension.
Example of a phone-monitoring app advertised on Google. (Credit: Google)
However, Google’s new policy does contain a potential loophole: the revision only cracks down on ads that purposely market the surveillance products for spying purposes. In the past, some spyware providers have wisened up and sold the software as child-monitoring apps.
It doesn’t exactly help that Google’s updated policy creates an exemption for products and services designed to help parents monitor their underage children. (Another thing to note is how users will still be able to find stalkerware-capable products via Google search.)
The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on how it’ll police the new policy. But it goes into effect on Aug. 11. Facebook’s ad policies also prohibit the promotion of hacking tech and hidden surveillance equipment.