Piracy Karma has come back to haunt Google in a major way
A couple of days ago, we ran a story about a circulating rumor that Google had expressed strong concerns with the launch of an Acer phone powered by Chinese Internet firm Alibaba’s Aliyun OS. As the post explained, Alibaba claimed that Google had warned Acer that releasing the CloudMobile A800 could result in the search giant “terminating its Android-related cooperation and other technology licensing with [Acer].” These rather strong words led to speculation over just what the issue could be with Aliyun, and whether Google had issued the warning at all. Google quickly confirmed its stance, indicating that Aliyun was an incompatible version of Android, and one that could “weaken the ecosystem.”
Aliyun OS, for those wondering, is a Linux-based operating system built by Alibaba Group, China’s largest Internet firm by transactions. While the OS doesn’t use Dalvik, it is, for all intents and purposes, an Android clone. The OS is heavily focused on cloud storage, and at launch, Alibaba promised users 100GB of free storage space for media, files, and – of course – applications.
Anxious to find more information or some clue as to what spurred Google’s alleged “concerns,” I began digging. A reader commented on the original story that something seemed fishy about Aliyun’s app store, which evidently launched earlier this year.
After doing just a bit of research, it would seem our reader had a point – Aliyun’s app store appeared to be distributing Android apps scraped from the Play Store and other websites, not only downloadable to Aliyun devices as .apk files, but also provided by third parties not involved with the apps’ or games’ development. What’s more, we’ve received independent confirmation from the original developers of some of these apps that they did not in fact give consent for their products to be distributed in Aliyun’s app store.
In this post, we’ll take a quick look at some of the evidence that Aliyun is illegally distributing apps, our confirmation from developers, and what this could mean for Android, Aliyun, and piracy in general.
The implications of Aliyun’s app store providing what are – essentially – pirated apps are pretty big. To start with, we know that Chinese piracy accounts for a rather considerable chunk of the Android piracy pie – China is home to about 170 million Android users. Why is piracy such an issue in China? It’s likely due to the fact that Google is yet to get paid apps to China in the Play Store. Whether this is due to legal issues (probably), or some other factor is unknown right now. That being said, part of the problem can also be attributed to the development and distribution of Android splinters or incompatible clones like Aliyun, which have no access to the Play Store in the first place. Either way, in this writer’s opinion, the lack of an ability to pay for something does not validate the illegal distribution of that thing.
Next, Aliyun’s app store is, as the name implies, the app store for an entire emerging OS in China, one that is essentially a “fake” version of Android. The presence and distribution of pirated apps through the store not only makes Alibaba Group complicit to app piracy, but extends the complicity to any company who chooses to partner with the firm in bringing Aliyun OS to mobile devices and by extension to the hands of customers.
In essence, the presence or emergence of an OS like Aliyun which relies on an app store filled with piracy hurts all involved with Android – first, it undermines the meaning behind the Open Handset Alliance itself. If Aliyun were to be successful, it would put off developers who find that their hard work is being carelessly distributed for free internationally. Once that happens, end users can suffer from a lack of quality apps, a poor development ecosystem, and general dissatisfaction.
Though Google’s statement on the recent Acer/Aliyun debacle went directly for the (extremely valid) “incompatibility” argument, the evidence presented here may compel one to think that there might have been a second reason behind Google’s strong response, which itself was an almost unprecedented reaction from the Mountain View giant regarding the Open Handset Alliance and the protection of Android’s ecosystem.
So what happens now? First, it’s important to recognize that totally stomping out app piracy is a pipe dream. Jelly Bean saw the introduction of device-specific app encryption in an effort to slow piracy, but the latest available distribution numbers show that just 1.2% of Android devices (approximately 4.8 million devices) are running Jelly Bean so far. Further, existing licensing methods can be broken.
As Eric explained in his analysis of the Android piracy problem, when and if Google manages to open up paid apps to China, it will still have piracy issues to face. It is unlikely that existing piracy sites and markets like Nduoa and Aliyun’s app store will simply zap out of existence, and there will still be Android forks floating around with users that are willing to get a hold of Play Store apps however they can.
The overall point here is that, despite the probable persistence of piracy, Google’s response to Acer’s proposed union with Aliyun is completely understandable – while Google may not be able to quash piracy once and for all, it recognizes that turning a blind eye while an Open Handset Alliance member releases a platform that copies Android and steals from its app and developer ecosystem is not a good starting place.
Google did not want Acer to promote “greater openness in the mobile ecosystem”
Freedom of information is fine as long as its not mine