Google bans ads for harassing software

Google interdit les publicités pour les logiciels de harcèlement Cybersecurity

Google announced this week that it intends to ban ads that promote harassing software, spyware and other forms of surveillance technology that can be used to track other people without their specific consent. The change was announced this week as part of an upcoming Google Ads policy update due to take effect next month, August 11, 2020.

Here are some examples of products and services that advertisers will no longer be able to promote through Google Ads:

  • spyware and technologies used for partner monitoring, including, but not limited to, spyware or even malware that can be used to monitor text messages, phone calls or browsing history;
  • GPS trackers marketed specifically to spy on or follow someone without their consent;
  • the promotion of surveillance equipment (cameras, audio recorders, dashboard cameras, cameras for nannies) marketed for the express purpose of spying.

Google specifies that private investigation services or products designed so that parents can follow or monitor their minor children are not prohibited by this new policy and may always be advertised on its platform.

Offenders who promote harassment software will receive a seven-day warning, after which they will be banned if they do not remove the offending ads.

The fight is gaining momentum

Google’s crackdown on stalker ads comes after the antivirus industry has banded together to add stalker detections to their virus scanning engines. After improving their products, anti-virus companies, as well as several national organizations fighting first-line abuse, also founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware in November 2019, the first such global initiative, set up to raise awareness about the growing threat of harassment software.

For those unfamiliar with these terms, stalkerware is a form of malware that is part of the broader class of spyware. The term “stalkerware” refers to spyware applications specifically designed for couples, which abusive partners install on their partner’s device without their knowledge or without their consent – hence the term “stalkerware”, sometimes also called “spouseware”.

The use of harassment software has exploded in the past decade, due to the proliferation of smartphones, as they allow jealous people to keep an eye on their partner at all times, just by following their phone. In addition, the easy availability of harassment products on official application stores has also increased the visibility of these products and opened their reach to millions of potential users.

The popularity of these applications has not decreased

While Google, Apple, the antivirus manufacturers, and the FTC have taken tough action against some of these apps, they haven’t gone away for good, but are in fact more popular than ever. According to statistics collected by the anti-virus vendor Kaspersky, the number of users who installed “stalkerware” type applications on an Android device has greatly increased: we went from 40,386 devices detected in 2018 to more than 67,500 in 2019.

The good news is that, according to the independent antivirus testing laboratory AV-Comparatives and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the detection rate of harassing software on Android and Windows devices has improved somewhat. This problem is indeed increasingly covered by the press, and security service providers are mobilizing to address this growing risk.

By limiting the visibility of harassing software on its advertising platform, Google is helping to reduce traffic to their sites.



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