Google Pulls Seven Stalking Apps From the Play Store

Ruben Fields
July 18, 2019

Google has removed around 60 apps developed by the Shanghai-based, US -listed software firm CooTek from its Play store and banned the company from its advertising platform, Google Admob, for allegedly engaging in alleged malicious ad practices. They promote criminal behavior and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims. The firm discovered that the reported apps were all published by CooTek, and that they all contained the BeiTaAd adware. But CNET reported that most users of such apps weren't using them for their supposed intended goal, and were instead using them for stalking, notably for tracking people in personal or romantic relationships. Thousands of users had installed these apps and the most popular ones from the lot were Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker with more than 50,000 installs combined. The apps can then track a person's location, collect their contacts, look at SMS messages, and see their call history, sending the data back to the attacker.

The move will not affect current users of CooTek's apps, versions of which will remain available on Chinese app markets, the company added.

The apps require a person to have access to a target's phone so they can be downloaded and installed.

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Although all these apps have been removed by Google, it is highly suggested that you should also uninstall in case you have any of these apps on your Android smartphone. There's no app icon that will inform victims of its existence, so unsuspecting users will be spied on without consent or knowledge.

The apps were likely designed by a Russian developer to allow people to stalk employees, romantic partners, or kids, Avast said.

All of the apps were made by the same developer and pitched themselves as innocuous parental control apps or ways for companies to monitor their people.

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