Temple Jump, Tiny Birds, Numbers With Friends. These are not the apps you love. They’re fakes designed to scam you out of $1.99 when you go to buy Temple Run, Tiny Wings, or Words With Friends. Today Apple took a stand against plagiarism, kicking these rip-offs out of the US App Store. Good riddance, but how can platform owners stop these developers before they rob users of thousands or even millions of dollars?
This morning, The Guardian wrote about how Anton Sinelnikov who made the fakes listed above and other scam developers are essentially stealing money from hardworking independent studios like Imangi and Andreas Illiger, as well as industry giants like Zynga. Temple Jump even reached the top of the paid app chart.
Apparently that was the last straw, and since then Apple has removed many of Anton’s apps so they’re no longer available for download. This morning, Keith Shepard, found of Temple Run maker Imangi Studios tweeted that several other rip-offs had been removed as well.
In the past, Apple has gone after developers who cheated the review system, booting 1000 apps by one developer back in 2009. The problem has continued, though, with scam developers relying on curiosity stemming from outraged tweets and Facebook messages to drive sales, as seen in this off-hand graph submitted by developer Kode80.
The App Store and Android Marketplace are too big to be entirely policed without the help of users. That’s why Apple needs a new predefined option in its “Report A Problem” button shown on App Store apps.
Right now there’s only “This application has a bug”, “This application is offensive”, “My concern is not listed here”, and an open comment field. “This app is a fake version of another app” should be added. Android, Facebook, and other platform owners should ensure they have similar ways to specifically report fakes. But where is the line drawn between copying another app’s gameplay and releasing an out-right fake?
Zynga was itself accused of copying developer NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower with its app Dream Heights. But Dream Heights has a distinct name, typography, and logo. It’s trying to win users with similar game mechanics, not by duping them into thinking they’re downloading Tiny Tower.
paaidContent wrote about Cut The Birds, a now removed mashup of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja that topped the free App Store chart. While it has unique gameplay, it originally used an icon and characters with a blatantly copy of Rovio’s birds. Cut The Birds has returned with a 3D version that doesn’t steal Rovio’s designs. In addition to games, apps and whole websites are also being ripped off. The Next Web reports that Google was commendably quick to pull a fake “Siri for Android” app, and then there’s the Samwer brothers and their Pinterest clone.
Platform owners needs to lay out clearer rules around the issue, and create a transparent system for enforcement. For example, a developer whose app receiving a certain threshold of “fake” reports, with names and logos that reach some threshold of similarity should be given a warning and certain number of days to clear up infractions before being removed from the store. Facebook launched a new anti-spam enforcement system in July after apologizing for sudden app takedowns by its automated system.
By giving users an easier way to report fakes and having an enforcement protocol they can point to, platform owners could protect users and honest developers, and make pirates walk the plank.