Combating Piracy and Malware Through Application Stores

Having a platform-specific store for applications certainly is one way to reduce piracy as every downloaded app will be tied to a specific consumer account and will only work on computers or devices authorized to use that account. On top of that, if these stores employ gatekeepers, it will go a long way to ensure that the apps are not being used as trojan horses to launch hidden apps. This has been proven by Apple’s App Store for iOS and for OS X as well as Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store and Windows Store.

Unfortunately for developers, compliance to the store regulations can limit the freedom for developers to create applications that perform certain legitimate functions but not allowed by the regulations and guidelines governing the stores for various reasons.

Additionally, the issue of piracy in this case shifts from unauthorized distribution and sale of apps to wholesale copies of them being made available on the store under a different name. In other words, there exist copies, or duplicates, or clones, of apps being distributed on the stores, listed with similar icons, screenshot, and a different or even similar name, uploaded by rogue developers who want to take advantage of the confusion between the apps.

Additionally, application stores may end up limiting the distribution and adoption of paid apps if they employ a specific payment method which are not already widely adopted by the population. While this can be overcome by the addition of more alternative payment methods, it may take some time before such arrangements can be implemented and accepted.

Licensing
Of course, the other argument in this matter is the fact that licensing costs for software from the likes of Microsoft and Adobe are considered quite high for the majority of Indonesian consumers and the licensing restrictions place quite a burden on families with multiple computers.

The recent licensing change to the Microsoft Office suite for example, is particularly challenging for home users, limiting home license to one installation instead of three, but the company probably did that to push its web-based Office 365 product instead, which is arguably more affordable.

Organizations on the other hand could take Office 365 licensing costs into consideration and decide whether it’s worth the expense or whether they should find and use alternative software packages that deliver the same or similar functions as their first preference.

Moving software access to the web is another way to combat piracy as it restricts distribution but it doesn’t mean it will be safe from malware as recent cases involving Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Chinese hackers can attest.

The advantage of having these online distribution methods for apps like iWork, Office or Google Docs, and even Photoshop, is that it frees the companies from having to ship software in boxes and it allows a change in the licensing model towards more practical models. On top of that, cost of software will be reduced, accounting for the lack of physical production and distribution.

Of course, software licensing methods depend highly on either the software publisher or the store regulations. Ideally software should be tied to a single customer account with a generous allowance for device installations, the actual number of which may be up for discussion. A proper implementation of this will certainly encourage app purchase and developers can use all sorts of manners to discourage piracy.

Tweetbot
The example from Tapbots earlier this week is certainly one way to deal with piracy outside of the store. Like many developers, Tapbots is mostly powerless against software pirates but in releasing Tweetbot for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, it also has to deal with the distribution limit imposed by Twitter for making an unofficial Twitter client app. While we don’t know whether Tweetbot is close to reaching that limit, Tapbots decided to be creative nonetheless, to teach a lesson to the pirates.

Pirated copies of Tweetbot preloads a text on the tweet compose screen suggesting that the copy being used is pirated. In a tweet to Gizmodo UK, Tapbots revealed that sending the text is not automated at all. The company left it to the individuals to send the text instead of having it sent automatically. Apparently the pirates are stupid enough to send them.

These pirated copies of Tweetbot clearly came from outside of the App Store. Someone downloads a copy from the store, strips it of its protection and security and releases it to the wild. Being a high quality app means it’s among the most wanted apps and there are always people unwilling to spend money to use such apps. But if developers can discourage piracy through limiting functions and more creative ways such as the above example, it becomes something that can be managed.

Trust by proxy
Software piracy is something that is inevitable and it’s a fact of life in being a software developer. It boils down to whether developers can find their legitimate markets, address the issues, and discover ways to keep creating software without being burdened by the pirates. It’s about weighing the costs and benefits in dealing with different markets and behaviors.

Online application and content stores went from obscure to expected in just a short number of years. Even Mozilla, the web-oriented company, will have an application store for Firefox OS.  These stores provide trust by proxy along with other benefits. Consumers who may not have otherwise heard of particular apps will be able to get to them more easily and without having to worry about malware infections on their devices.

By changing the nature of how software is distributed and sold, platform owners and software developers not only provide an easier way to have their apps discovered, but they also provide a much safer way to do so. Consumers who acquire software through this method need no longer worry about inadvertently downloading destructive programs or software that will steal their data. It’s the job of store curators to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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