The piracy that lurks in the app stores

Peter Szyszko, CEO of White Bullet Solutions, looks at the rise of piracy in the app stores, often inadvertently funded by well-known brands.

As an experiment, head over to your usual mainstream app store, or one of the ever-growing set of un-curated app aggregators, and have a poke around. 

It might not be something you usually do – most of us glance at the featured apps or the best-selling ones, and if we search, we usually know exactly what we’re looking for.

But this time, try searching by keywords such as free movies’. You will find all sorts of services with generic names and too-good-to-be-true offerings. Once downloaded, many of these apps provide stolen streamed content. Others link users to sites loaded with malware. And very often, the only legitimate aspect of these dodgy apps is their advertising, which typically comes from well-known brands.

In the same way that household-name advertising is known to fund pirate websites on the open web, the same is turning out to be true of the in-app ecosystem – and that ecosystem is booming.

On mobile and other connected devices, legitimate applications are critical to the success of IP rights owners and streamed content companies across the world. They allow for an unprecedented level of flexibility as well as higher resolutions and better interactivity than that offered by even smart TV.

A huge problem
But streamed in-app content piracy is already a huge problem. As we’ve seen, for anyone with the will to do so, pirate apps are very easy to get hold of, their stolen content invariably funded by unsuspecting advertisers who assume their programmatic ads are going to law-abiding, IP-respecting publishers.

And not only are the app market and the pirate ecosystem growing, but the dark side of the market is more lucrative than ever before. Advertising placed in apps commands a higher revenue and ROI than desktop or mobile ads, as phones gather precise user details, including location data, and that closer targeting sells at a premium. App users are also more likely to consent to alerts, simply because they trust the personal device in their pocket.

Because we understand the fundamental differences between the technical ecosystems, White Bullet recently became the first company to track and analyse in-app advertising on pirate apps – gathering and comparing data to form a landscape view of in-app piracy via mobile as well as OTT and Connected TV services.

As a result, we can see whats coming, and the indications are that it’s an intensification of the already raging online piracy business that siphons off millions from advertising budgets and funnels it to the organised criminal gangs that operate much of the illegal streaming market.

Joint effort
As always, drawing the line and solving the problem requires a joint effort between IP rights owners, intermediaries and those within the supply chain that can step up and make a difference. Demonetising ad-funded piracy without a clear strategy and view of the problem wont work.

Our work with the EU Commission to “follow the money” and simultaneously provide landscape information, data solutions and clarity has already shown success. Now the same fight is beginning in the in-app space.

IP rights holders, brands and their technology partners owe it to themselves and the health of their businesses to lend a hand in stamping out corrupting and fraudulent influences in this important space. Just as in open-web piracy, regulators are beginning to take an interest too, and not before time. If in-app is piracy’s new wild west, the lawmakers need to ride into town sooner rather than later.