Google Removes “Boyfriend Tracker” App

Brazilian outrage over privacy violations from new smartphone app.

By: Ryan Moore, Staff Writer

A popular Brazilian Android app that allows its users to covertly track their partner’s location was removed from the Google Play app store just weeks after controversy over the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) overseas spying operation in Brazil.

Tens of thousands of Brazilians downloaded the “Boyfriend Tracker” app before it was removed from the app store last week amidst complaints of privacy abuse and concerns over possible stalking and extortion.

“Brazilians are a jealous people, what can I say? Of course it’s going to be popular,” Marcia Almeida told reporters, a 47-year-old woman in Rio de Janeiro whose marriage ended as a result of what she said was her husband’s infidelity.

“It’s a different type of spying,” she said, comparing the app to the NSA surveillance program. “You’re checking up on somebody you know intimately, not some stranger.”

The Sao Paulo-based developer of the “Boyfriend Tracker” app, Matheus Grijo, attributes the app’s popularity to the larger culture of Brazil.

“In Brazil, we have this culture of switching partners really quickly, so this is a way of dealing with that,” said Grijo. “People really appreciate having a tool to help them find out whether they’re being cheated on.”

Despite its popularity, some Brazilians argue that the app has been breaking anti-online harassment and hacking laws since April 2013.

The app is designed to be a private detective in your pocket. Once installed on the target smartphone, users are given the option of receiving updates on their significant other’s location and forwarding duplicates of the text message traffic from the tracked phone. Users can also force the tracked phone to silently call their own phone so they can listen to conversations.

It’s not the first smartphone app to cause concern over privacy rights. Similar smartphone apps such as “Children Tracker” have marketed themselves to parents in Europe and the U.S. who want to make sure their children are staying out of trouble.

Google spokespeople have commented that it’s company policy not to comment on why apps are removed.

To install the Boyfriend Tracker app, concerned individuals have to access their partner’s smartphone to upload the app.

The disclaimer on the company website stipulates that the app is for “social and recreational use” and that it should be installed on the boyfriend’s phone “with his consent.” This has reportedly absolved Grijo of responsibility for misuse of the app.

Grijo added that lawyers vetted the app before it was available for public use. At the time, the app did not violate any Brazilian laws.

Ryan Moore is a writer living in Toronto. He is an Algonquin College graduate, currently studying at York University. Right now, he is investigating the Canadian mental health system. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StigmaFighter.  Twitter: https://twitter.com/StigmaFighter.


Photo courtesy of Flickr, by Randy_Dupree

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