Pirates Plunder the iPhone App Store

The extent of illegal, free distribution of iPhone apps may be surprisingly large. Developers need to take steps to protect themselves.


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Apple is currently spending lavish quantities of ad money on promoting the App Store and telling customers how there’s an app for just about anything on the iPhone. It all makes it seems like a fantastic time for developers to jump on board the App Store bandwagon and start developing new apps like mad.

However, there is a dark side to the App Store that Apple will not acknowledge, or, it seems, do anything about – piracy.

The piracy of digital content is nothing new, and there was no reason to believe that Apple’s App Store would somehow be immune to being boarded by pirates and plundered. However, the extent of the piracy is staggering.

According to Wired.com some 20% of all apps contained in the App Store have been pirated. That is such a staggeringly high amount that I initially had trouble believing it.

However, after spending a little “quality” time roaming the darker streets and back alleyways of the Internet I think that it could be an underestimate. If you apply the 80/20 rule to the App Store (that is, that 80 per cent of the apps are little more than junk) then a very high number of the high quality, highly desired apps have been cracked and made available for free download.

In other words, the pirates appear to be targeting the most popular apps. In my travels I came across hundreds of individual apps that were cracked and ready for download, but more worrying I found archives containing hundreds of cracked apps freely available. The value of such a bundle must be in the thousands of dollars.

Before we go any further, I want to get a few things clear. First, I don’t buy any of the nonsense spouted by the apologists who claim that piracy leads to sales. Piracy is theft and it’s not often that you come across an honest thief. None of the studies I have come across show that developers benefit from piracy.

Second, cracking apps has nothing at all to do with fair use. It’s stealing, plain and simple. Also, the whole argument that software piracy doesn’t matter because it only takes a few crumbs from the table of nameless, faceless multinational companies with millions (or billions) of dollars in the bank is bunk. Most of the developers with apps in the App Store are small companies or individuals trying to make a few bucks.

This isn’t a case of “sticking it to the man” and App Store thefts seem to me like they are harming the little guy far more than they are harming the big guys.

I know guys and gals who have spent a lot of time putting together iPhone apps who expected fair remuneration for the time they invested. Some of these developers have paid others for music, artwork and coding and are therefore out of pocket right from the start (let’s ignore the fact that they need to pay Apple in order to become registered developers, and need to buy devices to act as test platforms).

Finally, the “poor me” argument. This is the defense where someone justifies using a cracked app because they are strapped for cash.

Gimme a break. You are using a cellphone that costs hundreds of dollars, and are tied to an expensive monthly contract for two years. If you can’t afford to pay a few bucks for an app, then you’re not “cool” enough to own an iPhone in the first place.

Next Page: Combatting iPhone app piracy

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Tags: software, iPhone, iphone apps, Apple

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