The number of users infected with stalkerware went up by almost 60% in 2019, from 40,386 in 2018, to 67,500 this year, Russian antivirus maker Kaspersky said today in its yearly mobile malware threats report.
The number went up in 2019 despite the fact that Google set off on a concerted effort to remove all stalkerware-like apps from the Play Store at the end of 2018.
This shows that despite stalkerware apps not being available on the official Android app store, many abusers are now going to great lengths to side-load (install) these apps from unofficial sources, such as manually downloading the app from its website and secretly installing it on a victim's handset.
Kaspersky's numbers, however, don't go back years, so we don't have a full picture of how this ecosystem evolved.
The antivirus vendor only began detecting and marking stalkerware apps in the spring of 2018, after pressure from Eva Galperin, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's director of cybersecurity.
Other vendors followed in Kaspersky's footsteps, and most are now members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, a multi-industry group specialized in fighting the harmful effects of this kind of apps.
The term stalkerware (also known as spouseware) refers to a certain type of apps, many of which also have legitimate use cases, but are also often abused to spy or stalk victims.