The Android Market is turning into the "Wild West" of app piracy. Android apps are easy to steal, and this hurts both developers and consumers, a new survey finds.
Android developers are
encountering problems with software piracy due to the way Google has structured
the Android Market, according to a recent report. This is not only hurting
developers, but also the consumers who are buying Android-based smartphones and
In a survey of 75 Android
developers, 52 percent claimed to have used some form of anti-piracy mechanisms
in their applications, a Sept. 7 report from research firm Yankee Group found.
In the same report, 62 percent of developers said they lost sales after
implementing anti-piracy features, as "customers are not big fans of
licensing systems or copy protections." About 82 percent of developers
claimed implementing copy protection resulted in locking out users from applications
that were legitimately purchased.
The survey also found that
the majority of developers pointed to Google as the main problem; 54 percent of
the respondents said Google was "too lax" in its Android Market
"Android apps are
living in the Wild West without a sheriff," said Carl Howe, the author of
the Yankee Group report.
The burden of
"thwarting" piracy largely falls on the application developers, Yankee
Group found, and recommended that Google tighten up how it runs and polices
Android Market. The recommendations included certifying alternate application
markets, such as GetJar, Appia and Amazon
, so that users can count on a certain standard of "trust and
accounting" for all applications from that marketplace. Payment receipts
that could be verified online can also be used to check that an application has
been legitimately purchased. Finally, Yankee Group recommended code obfuscation
to make it difficult for pirates to just repackage the application and other
tamper checking mechanisms to protect applications.
Not all developers are
seeing piracy as a problem, but it appears that some of the issues are
intrinsically tied to how Android Market is structured.
About half the developers
who responded to the survey perceived piracy as either a "huge
problem" or "somewhat of a problem." More than 75 percent of Android
developers in the survey said it was "easy" or "very easy"
to copy an Android application and republish it as their own. Since Android applications
are essentially Java applications compiled to run under the mobile operating
system, pirates can easily decompile applications and distribute them under
similar names on other marketplaces, the survey said. About a third of
developers claimed piracy cost them more than $10,000 in revenue and support
costs. A similar number claimed their support costs have increased as a direct
With five other mobile
competing against each other, Google "can't
afford" to ignore the problem of application piracy, according to Howe. If
the developers are losing money, they are likely to "flee" to other
platforms and stop developing for Android, Howe noted.
Google's License Validation
Library (LVL) is supposed to allow developers to determine whether an application
was acquired legitimately from the Android Market, but developers told researchers
it was easy to defeat. To make LVL effective, developers had to obfuscate the
code and use other techniques to prevent source-code tampering. In contrast,
Apple uses binary machine code to compile applications that prevent pirates
from easily changing and redistributing them, the survey found.
Software piracy is a big
problem for applications that act as a background service, according to application
developer SmartDyne in the report. If the user is in an area with high
data rates or sporadic connectivity, they may deactivate the data connection,
preventing the licensing service from connecting with the applications. A
license key policy based on accounts or device IDs would help get around the
problem, but would result in a "higher effort for every purchased app and,
of course, higher costs," SmartDyne said.
Yankee Group worked with
Skyhook, a mobile location data company, on the survey. The developers had a
popular paid application in Google's Android Market and were scattered across
22 countries. Skyhook is currently embroiled in a legal
battle with Google
for excluding its geo-location system from Android
devices. Yankee Group's Howe told ReadWriteWeb
that researchers analyzed the raw data to ensure the data hadn't been skewed in
light of Skyhook's ongoing dispute.