Update: It looks like the copycat problem is not limited to Google Play Store as noted by one of our readers @sagarbedmutha. He informed that one of the app companies had copied the description of their SMS Blocker App on the BlackBerry App World and there has been no action taken on the company by RIM, even after 20 days of reporting the problem. If you come across any fake apps in any of the app stores, do give us a heads-up in the comments below. We’re compiling a list of fake apps for the benefit of our readers.
Previously: While searching for the official IPL apps on Google Play Store (previously Android Market), we found an application by “Pojiz Mobility” which was offering a similar app called “IPL Cricket” (hat tip: @vishalgondal). What’s interesting though is that the app uses the name and description of the official IPL game ‘Cricket T20 Fever 3D‘ released by Disney’s Indiagames. Making matters worse, the app listing suggests that the company has already racked up somewhere around 10,000-50,000 downloads and an impressive 4.3 rating of the maximum five, in the 7 days of its existence.
Upon further exploration, we found that Pojiz Mobility has published 40 such apps ranging from ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’, ‘Farm Frenzy Divide’, ‘Bubble Shooter’ and several adult apps with download numbers ranging somewhere between 1000 to 10,000 for each app. What’s interesting though, is that all the apps seems to have been published on the same date i.e. April 7, 2012.
Developer terms, no moderation: Correct us if we are wrong, but from what we know, any developer can sign up at Google Play Android Developer Console by paying the requisite $25 initial fee and publish apps instantly without any review process in place from Google, unlike in iOS or Windows Phone OS where each app is moderated by Apple and Microsoft respectively. Also, the Google Play Developer Content Policies clearly mentions that while developing an app for Google Play, the application shouldn’t contain content that displays (via text, images, video, or other media) or links to:
- Illegal content
- Invasions of personal privacy or violations of the right of publicity
- Content that interferes with the functioning of any services of other parties
- Promotions of hate or incitement of violence
- Violations of intellectual property rights, including patent, copyright (see DMCA policy), trademark, trade secret, or other proprietary right of any party
- Any material not suitable for persons under 18
- Pornography, obscenity, nudity, or sexual activity”
How does Google monitor malicious apps then? Well, Google actually depends on its Android user community to flag malicious and copy cat apps. While this approach might offer few benefits for developers to publish their apps faster, we perceive this to be one of the oldest and significant problem of Google Play Store, since it allows developers gain instant publicity (and ad revenue) by publishing rip offs of popular apps, thereby causing problems for both the user and Android app developers.
If one observes the current procedure to remove these apps, the original app developer (which is Indiagames in the case above) has to raise a complaint with Google through email or an online form, following which Google investigates the issue and takes various actions including removing the malicious apps, suspending the app developer and so on.
Few Android developers we spoke to, noted Google’s quick turn around time to take down these rip offs, which ranges from few hours to a day. However, we wonder why doesn’t Google prevent it altogether since these ripoffs cause a problem to both the user and the original app developers since unlike malicious apps, these ripoff apps are neither pulled from the phone once installed nor is there any intimation to the user that the app is fake.
Note that this is not the first time Google has faced such intellectual property issues and there has been numerous such instances over the years. While writing this article, we also found apps like Sony Max Live, Sony TV live, Star Plus Live and so on from a firm called ‘The Computer Healer LLC’. Interestingly, Sony Max Live app is currently ranking at No. 3 in the Google Play Store’s Top Free Section, having grossed over 100,000 downloads in five days of its existence. Is it time that Google starts moderating the Play Store, putting an approval process in place?