Anti-theft app Cerberus falls foul of Google’s tracking guidelines

An opportune moment to remember that sometimes he who pays the piper does not always call the tune: anti-theft app provider Cerberus says Google has pinged its app as in violation of its developer terms.

Cerberus offers users protection should their Android device get lost or stolen. This can range from support for Android Wear, pictures of the thief surreptitiously sent to email addresses, and coded SMS messages if mobile data is switched off.

The problem, however, relates to the tracking of location data; naturally necessary for finding out where a lost device has gone, but not ideal – as Google appears to insist – when requiring a notification to do it.

According to the missive Google sent to Cerberus, its app violates a malicious behaviour policy. Apps ‘must not hide or cloak tracking provider or attempt to mislead users about such functionality’, as well as ‘present users with a persistent notification and unique icon that clearly identifies the app’ if monitoring or tracking a user’s behaviour. “So according to Google we should display a notification so a thief knows you are tracking your stolen device?” the company posted in a Google+ post.

The move comes amidst a similar move regarding Android’s accessibility services affecting password manager LastPass. Last week, reports had circulated regarding Google’s plans to change its policy on using the Accessibility Services API. “Apps requesting accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities use Android devices,” Google told developers. “Your app must comply with our Permissions policy and the Prominent Disclosure requirements of our User Data policy.”

Other elements which apps can use accessibility services for are auto-filling passwords, automating tasks and copying content to clipboards. Yet an update from LastPass last week found that Google – actively working with 1Password, Dashlane, Keeper, and LastPass – will aim to be ‘certifying password managers and adding them to a curated section in the Play Store.’

The question is: should Cerberus be getting similar treatment?

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