Piracy is nothing new. Content creators have faced bootlegs, fakes, and illegal copies since time immemorial. In fact, recent reports show that Google’s piracy rate hit a record high in 2014.

Or, in other words, piracy isn’t going anywhere. soon.

No wonder Android is also infested with pirates. But how serious is the problem? What impact does this have on the atmosphere of the application? And how does this affect the thinking of application developers? Unfortunately, the situation does not look so good.

Android app piracy rampant

Up until last month, the discussion of mobile piracy was a relatively quiet hum, punctuated by sporadic grumblings throughout the blogosphere. But when UsTwo wrote up some misleading statistics about piracy rates in their apps, the discussion resurfaced.

Does this mean that Android suffers from 95% piracy? Not really. UsTwo acknowledged that this figure was not entirely accurate, as a single purchase can often translate into multiple installs (e.g. across multiple devices). Also, the numbers are not adjusted for several «free download» campaigns they have run in the past.

But we must not forget that pirates on Android have been a serious problem for many years. According to the Android Authority, only 10% of the apps that were downloaded in 2012 were actually purchased, indicating that the piracy rate was indeed somewhere around 90% — even then.

Regardless of the exact number, one thing is certain: Android piracy is massive.

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Some may remember the occasion Dead Trigger a mobile game that debuted at $0.99 on Android and iOS. After such an incredibly high level of piracy, the developers had no choice but to make the Android version free.

How high is «incredibly high»? They didn’t provide any numbers so we can’t know for sure, but it was significant enough to cause a change in their revenue model.

And in 2013, a SlashGear report showed a 95 percent piracy rate for Android games, while the iOS counterpart in the same games showed a 5 percent piracy rate. To be honest, this is data from a single developer, and it’s probably not representative of the entire industry, but it’s data that shows just how big the difference is.

That being said, with so many sources claiming that pirates make up around 90-95% of their user base, you have to wonder if these numbers point to a broader trend.

Why is piracy so common on Android?

Because it’s free!

While this is definitely true, it doesn’t explain why Android users are much more likely to use pirated apps than iOS users. Is there something in Android that makes piracy easier? Or worse, is there an aspect that perhaps even encourages piracy?

For most, the answer is Yes!

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Matt Gemmell made some fantastic points while exploring the Android pirate landscape. His points boil down to this: Android users don’t pirate out of frustration (such as not being able to get what they want) or financial considerations (such as apps being too expensive); they do it because Android is designed for piracy.

Android’s open philosophy means it’s too easy to piracy. When you give users so much freedom and control, it’s inevitable that they will find workarounds. Meanwhile, iOS is a closed ecosystem with stricter rules, which makes it much harder—but not impossible—for users to download illegitimate apps.

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We also need to consider actual users. People who buy on iOS are fundamentally different from people who buy on Android devices. I’m not trying to start a flame war. This is a statistical fact.

Generally speaking, Android users are more tech-savvy and are more likely to tinker with their device beyond surface level. Android users are also more conservative with their money. On the other hand, iOS users tend to be more affluent, more likely to be happy with their devices «as is» and less likely to use workarounds.

In other words, Android users want things for free and are smart enough to know how to get those things for free.

Dangers of Pirated Android Apps

Unfortunately, the truth about Android piracy is that it has a detrimental effect on the entire app ecosystem. If this continues in the coming years, we may find that the Google Play Store is becoming just a shell of what it is today.

The effects of piracy are more detrimental to developers than wasted money.

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For example, Play Store rating. There are several factors that determine an app’s rating, including the «newness» of the app, ratings and reviews, and the number of times it’s installed each day. The last one is really important.

In order to copy an app, you need to download an illegal version of the APK, and this illegal version is not downloaded from the Play Store — it is downloaded elsewhere. These third-party downloads do not count towards Play Store statistics.

This means that the app’s ranking — and therefore its visibility — takes a hit. While it is commonly claimed that piracy is in fact increases visibility , this argument fails in cases like this where the visibility mostly comes from one or two main resources (e.g. Play Store).

Is it any wonder why we have seen a huge shift towards freemium models with in-app purchases? With free download and installation, developers can collect installation statistics on the Play Store.

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Pirated applications can also be dangerous for the user. In a word: malware.

In 2012, a study by F-Secure found that over 99% of Android malware instances came from sources outside of the Play Store. While Google isn’t as strict as Apple when it comes to approving which apps can appear in the store, they still try to keep malicious apps out of the way.

When you start installing APKs from other sources, you lose this level of security. It is this risk that explains why we recommend using hacked applications for hacked hacked .

Note. If you suspect that you have malware installed on your device, or if you don’t know how to tell if you’re infected, check for these Android malware infection signs. .

And there’s no end in sight

Is there anything developers can do about it? Yes and no. While there are a few steps that can make the cracking process less convenient, a determined pirate will be able to crack any kind of app protection if given enough time.

In that sense, this whole issue is reminiscent of Digital Rights Management (DRM). and how ineffective it is when it comes to preventing piracy. The only way to reduce piracy on Android is to address the root issues of 1) how easy it is to piracy and 2) how willing users are to piracy.

But since this will require a complete change in Android philosophy, I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.

If you are pirated android apps, why are you doing this? What would convince you to stop? Do you think this is even a problem? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Bar upload via Shutterstock, app manager via Shutterstock, woman holding Android via Shutterstock, Android malware via Shutterstock

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