Android app piracy sees triple-digit growth

"The survey results indicate that Android piracy is now a serious issue," said Julie Titova, business development director at PTR. "There is currently no reliable Android digital rights management in place globally which could protect software against tampering, reverse-engineering and illegal distribution."

There are now more than 400 million activated Android devices worldwide, she noted, making it a fertile field for content thieves. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) over 100 million Android smartphones were sold worldwide during the first quarter of 2012 alone, which is 145% more than during the first quarter of 2011. In the second quarter of 2012 the increase was 106% compared with the same quarter in 2011.

Already, some developers have reported up to 100,000 downloads of applications and games; but the bad news is that only about 10% of them have been paid for, PTR found. Many Android developers use in-app advertisements or free-to-play models to increase their revenue, but still make less from paid applications than iOS developers.

The piracy issue for Android is not new: this time last year, Yankee Group found that about one-third of Android developers said that piracy has cost them in excess of $10,000 in revenue. About 32% said it increases their support costs, and one-quarter said it increases server costs due to heavy loads imposed by pirated copies.

One of the issues is the fact that Google, unlike Apple, allows users to install apps from other applications stores outside of Google Play. “Apple devices need comprehensive ‘jailbreak’ operations (e.g’, software cracking of a device) to install applications from non-App Store sources,” said software security expert Dmitry Gusev, in his blog. “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. 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.”

What’s needed is a standardized digital rights management system for applications, Titova advocates. "Protection and licensing systems for mobile platforms will provide a comprehensive, all-in-one solution for copyright owners of mobile content, developers of mobile software, publishers and distributors,” said Titova. "As well as providing code protection against reverse engineering, the system will have the ability to control content and software distribution and to define distribution policy."

Nonetheless, the awareness of the issue remains on the low side. Although 45% of software and application developer respondents said they are not concerned about piracy issues, 55% of those who took part in the survey said they are indeed worried about the increasing risks. Titova expects that to change. "I am sure that when we carry out this survey again, in six to 12 months’ time, the number of companies that will have experienced this problem at first-hand will have increased,” she said. "Therefore we expect the level of concern will rise accordingly."

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