As good as the App Store is in many respects, here’s a serious drawback you may not have considered: since all the applications on the store protected by the same copy-protection scheme, if just one person figures out how to get past it, anyone on the Internet can get thousands of applications for free.
Unfortunately for both iPhone third-party developers and Apple, the FairPlay DRM that protects apps was compromised a few months ago and pirates have been using cracked versions of paid applications for a while now.
As of yet Apple has shown no signs of trying to curb this rampant piracy. This lack of response has prompted some developers, such as Ben Chatelain, to take matters into their own hands.
Chatelain recently released version 1.1 of his $1 application Full Screen Web Browser. Having noticed a dramatic rise in illegitimate use of his app after a cracked version was released on a piracy site, he decided to try to fight back and perhaps even convince some people to buy the program. So he built in a server-side switch in the 1.1 version that checks whether or not the application has been legitimately purchased. If not, the program waits 10 launches and then puts up a message asking the user to either quit the application or purchase it from the App Store.
On the off chance that the application starts harassing users who’ve purchased it legitimately or even just in case users take issue with the fact that the application “phones home,” the developer has made sure that this functionality can be remotely disabled.
Although this is one of the first examples of a developer actually having implemented anti-piracy measures in their application, other developers have already been talking about this issue for a while now, one of the most notable being Marco Arment, the developer of iPhone application Instapaper. So far, Chatelain’s seen modest returns, with five of the 39 who’ve gotten the message opting to buy the application.
Being a Full Screen Web Browser user myself, I have to say that I have no problem with the developer putting in anti-piracy measures as long as it is invisible to me (honest person that I am), nor would I mind seeing more developers use these methods. They do need to feed their kids, after all, and it’s perfectly reasonable for them to try and prevent the theft of their software.
That said, it’s a shame that things have to come to this. Apple’s chosen to control the entire process themselves, making it the company’s responsibility to ensure that the system is secure as it can reasonably be. If Apple’s DRM is this vulnerable, third-party developers may feel less inclined to spend the time developing apps. Hopefully, the company will be able to mend this gaping hole in the App Store and iPhone eco-system sooner rather than later.