THE PIRATES OF ANDROID OCEAN
Dmitry Guseff, Protection Technology Research (StarForce)
The Android platform is becoming more and more popular globally. Around 68 per cent of all mobile devices are now managed by the Android OS.
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) over 100 million Android smartphones were sold worldwide during the first quarter of 2012, 145 per cent more than during the first quarter of 2011. In the second quarter of 2012 the increase was 106 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2011.
This is good news for Android platform but, as is often the case with good news, there are also some negative aspects for the Android ecosystem.
“Piracy of my apps is through the roof”, said David Peroutka, director at Android game developer Hexage.
“The good news was that more than 100,000 people were enjoying the new Android version of our game. The bad news was that only about 10 per cent of them paid for it”, added Miles Jacobson, CEO of Sports Interactive.
MadFinger Games company went further: “Even for one buck,” MadFinger explained, “the piracy rate is so large that we finally decided to provide DEAD TRIGGER for free.”
While there is no comprehensive Android piracy study, every developer estimates its rate. For example, compare the number of apps sold with the number of downloaded updates. If the application was purchased by 100 users but the update was downloaded 1,000 times we have a 9:1 piracy rate. Or compare sales figures with the number of users who voted for the application on leader boards – more voters than purchasers clearly shows there is a piracy problem!
Obviously in some cases piracy is a benefit to the developer. More people downloading the program means more publicity for the developer.
Mikael Hed, CEO of Finnish company Rovio which is behind the ‘Angry Birds’ brand, believes that piracy is not so bad as it seems to be. "We could learn a lot from the music industry, and the rather terrible ways the music industry has tried to combat piracy."
He added that it’s important to learn from the music industry. It is useless to pursue pirates through the courts, except in cases where it feels the products they are selling are harmful to the Angry Birds brand or are ripping off its fans.
But some other developers do not agree with Hed. Their main objection is that Rovio has the ‘Angry Birds’ brand which is the most successful mobile game ever. What should other developers do if they do not have a massive brand? How can they earn money and support business development and future investment?
Here the problem of struggling against piracy is one among many others. Today entrepreneurial developers are competing for market share but they are aiming to become big companies with large predicted sales. That is a pretty tough task without protection against piracy which robs developers of revenue.
Many developers use in-app advertisements to generate revenue. But if you play, say, ‘Angry Birds’ you know how annoying it is when a part of the screen is occupied by an advertisement. Finally, to avoid this annoyance, users purchase the app – or, in most cases, download a cracked version.
Developers often cite Google as the source of at least part of the problem. The IT giant permits Android users to install applications from unauthorised sources besides the official Google Play applications market.
IOS developer Matt Gemmell believes that “Android is made for piracy”. The freedom that is granted for users to install applications from different sources, low prices and many ‘free’ apps attract a lot of fans but ultimately it could harm the whole Android ecosystem.
Apple devices need comprehensive ‘jailbreak’ operations (eg, software cracking of a device) to install applications from non-App Store sources. Android users can avoid such ‘geek’ tricks. It’s enough to simply switch on certain options under the security tab and you are good to go. So, cracked applications may be installed on a device. Google does little to block this option because a successful mobile OS depends upon having a large number of available applications. Android smartphones are cheaper and there are a lot of free and pirated applications. All of this helps to increase the installed Android base.
However, this can also add to the problems for Android developers because the more applications there are, the greater the risk of reduced security and more piracy. The quality of programs is also likely to fall.
Reliable anti-piracy solutions are absent. Google’s License Verification Library (LVL) is hardly a serious obstacle even for a newbie hacker. That’s why unofficial markets are full of cracked games and programs.
Obviously, if someone offers a reliable solution developers may breathe more easily. Such a solution will create a time gap between the application release and the appearance of a cracked version. If the gap is long enough, developers will be able to earn revenue to compensate them for their development costs and even get income.
This solution will need to differ from existing digital rights management solutions for PCs because mobile platforms have different technology, different behaviour and a different ‘spirit’. The one thing that should be the same as is offered to developers of PC applications is excellent protection performance.