The creator of Tap Snake, a simple game that turned out to have spyware under the hood, insists his app was not a virus or a Trojan, as described by the Android community. The free Tap Snake game allowed a paid app, GPS Spy, to monitor a second phone’s location if Tap Snake was installed on the latter.
Max Lifshin, the Russian developer of both apps, says he only intended to create a way for parents to monitor their children’s whereabouts. GPS Spy does clearly state its purpose:
Download and install the free Tap Snake game from the Market to the phone you want to spy on. Press MENU and register the Snake with the service.
Use the GPS Spy app on your phone with the same email/code to track the location of the other phone.
Shows the last 24 hour trace in 15 min increments; data is kept for a week.
The Tap Snake game had no explanation that it was a companion for an Android-based location monitor. Lifshin explained to ZDNet, “What’s sad is that these ‘whistle blowers’ have prompted Google to suspend the app and thus deprived me of income. They unfairly classified this app as a Trojan and portrayed me as a villain, a malicious Russian developer working in the shadows.”
Symantec issued a warning about the game last week, noting that even killing the app does not stop the background GPS monitering. F-Secure also claimed the game was a Trojan, as it performed additional actions without the user’s knowledge or permission. It went on to note that “the trojan” (which reports GPS data to a server every 15 minutes) not only runs in the background if the game is killed, that it also continues running if the phone is rebooted.
Lifshin defended himself by saying his product was to aid parents. “The app is no more malicious than a motion detection camera – everything depends on the user’s intentions. It gives all the proper warnings and requires a set up, a conscious action, to report location. It can be easily used by mothers worrying about their kids’ whereabouts. In fact, I suspect the majority of users were indeed the mothers.”
ZDNet asks if Lifshin’s explanation makes sense. Was Android Market/Google right in removing both Tap Snake and GPS Spy? Is the monitoring feature a Trojan? Feel free to share your views.