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Google licensing changes could cap Android piracy

Google releases new mechanism for ensuring Android app developers get paid for premium content. The solution to curtail app theft? It's all in the cloud.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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While it's easy slinging arrows at Apple for its closed and tightly-controlled iPhone App Store, there's something to be said for its security.

Google's Android operating system has long faced more complicated concerns with its much freer application approval process, its openness to side-loaded apps (installing apps via APK files that you receive through some source other than the Android Market), plus having users root the platform to take control over certain internal system processes.

The "unauthorized" use of apps was a concern that application developers repeatedly brought to Google's attention, the company said in a blog post. Copying the app to the SD card and then demanding a refund is only one method of abuse, though developers have likely seen them all.

In this mobile climate, the platform with the most or most popular apps can highly influence user perceptions, if not outright sway a person's decision about which smartphone to buy. It's therefore in the best interests of both Google and the developers to provide a more surefire method for protecting paid Market content, to ensure that developers get paid and want to continue supporting Android.

Enter Google's new licensing service, which Google hopes to phase in as a replacement for the current copy-protection scheme "over the next few months." The new mechanism runs in real-time, with a server receiving requests to verify that an app was legitimately purchased through the Android Market. (Developers can check out more of the technical specifics here.)

There are still outstanding questions that will either be addressed by Google, or by consumers' usage over time, like how the the verification process might hinder user flow (Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage comes to mind).

Joining the new copy-protection program is free for developers of paid applications running on Android 1.5 and up, though developers will have to use a tad more elbow grease in preparing their code. In addition, the new license server, which is operational now, won't be able to retroactively verify the premium apps already in the Android Market. It will, however, be able to weigh in on participating developers' apps going forward.

[Via MobileCrunch and Engadget]