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Developer frustrated that Apple grants Game Center support to pirated iOS apps

post #1 of 146
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A game developer victimized by piracy via "jailbroken" iOS devices has expressed frustration that Apple's Game Center service is apparently fully functional for users who run stolen software.

GAMEized, the maker of the 99-cent iPhone and iPad game FingerKicks (iTunes link), told their story in a post on their official site this week. The tale of rampant piracy, highlighted Friday by TechCrunch, reveals that FingerKicks was pirated by 91 percent of those who have played it.

The developer discovered this because those who have stolen the game apparently still have their high scores posted on Apple's Game Center service for iOS. While the soccer-themed game has reportedly sold 1,163 legitimate copies, the developer said at least 15,950 pirated copies have been logged on Game Center.

The number of users who stole the application was helped by the fact that one illicit piracy service showcased FingerKicks as a "featured" game on its main page.

Frustrated by the situation, the developer has publicly questioned why Apple does not at the very least bar users with pirated software from utilizing the Game Center service. A Game Center account is tied to the same Apple ID used to purchase content from the App Store.

"Most bewildering of all is that even with all their rhetoric chastising piracy and intellectual property theft, Apple apparently has no functional counter-piracy safeguards in place on their Game Center -- essentially permitting users to play pirated software on their Game Center without fear of reprisals or consequence," GAMEized's Luis Fonseca wrote.



Despite frustration with what was characterized as a "humiliating piracy problem," the developer also added that they are fans of Apple's products and platforms, as evidenced by the fact that their game is exclusively available on iOS.

Users can install pirated software on iOS devices by "jailbreaking" the operating system. Jailbreaking is a warranty voiding process that exploits security holes in iOS in order to allow users to run unauthorized software.

While jailbreaking is legal and can be used for legitimate purposes such as custom themes and modifications to iOS, it can also be used for illegal purposes such as stealing applications from Apple's official App Store. For its part, Apple has warned users not to jailbreak, citing security risks.

The stigma of piracy connected to jailbreaking is not lost on the hackers who work to find the exploits in iOS. The latest browser-based jailbreak released earlier this month even pleads with users: "Please don't use this for piracy."
post #2 of 146
Same Devs will make an uproar when Apple tries to lock down and prevent jailbreaking, or tightens App Store policies to prevent piracy.

Can you imagine the uproar when Jailbroken devices' GameCenter games don't work.
post #3 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

Same Devs will make an uproar when Apple tries to lock down and prevent jailbreaking, or tightens App Store policies to prevent piracy.

Can you imagine the uproar when Jailbroken devices' GameCenter games don't work.

There is a difference between a jailbroken device and a stolen app. I don't think Apple should disable Game Center if your device is jailbroken, but fully support Apple is disallowing Game Center if you haven't purchased the app via the App Store.
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post #4 of 146
I built an App. I have counter-measures and tracking for piracy embedded into the App. I have stats.

1 out of 10 users paid for it. (it's actually 9.17%)

It's the devs responsibility to add these measures. This is a well known fact.
post #5 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

Same Devs will make an uproar when Apple tries to lock down and prevent jailbreaking, or tightens App Store policies to prevent piracy.

Can you imagine the uproar when Jailbroken devices' GameCenter games don't work.

The dev isn't requesting that GameCenter stops working on jailbroken phones. He's requesting that GameCenter not work *only* on *pirated* games (which coincidentally is only possible on jailbroken phones).

Don't confuse the two.
post #6 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by TimUSCA View Post

The dev isn't requesting that GameCenter stops working on jailbroken phones. He's requesting that GameCenter not work *only* on *pirated* games (which coincidentally is only possible on jailbroken phones).

Don't confuse the two.

Apple can't tell which games are pirated.
post #7 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

A Game Center account is tied to the same Apple ID used to purchase content from the App Store.

This is not true. Apple allows people to put purchased apps on up to 10 devices. For example, I buy all my kids games through my account. However, each device can have its own Game Center account that is not tied to the account that purchased the game, so each kid can have their own high scores.
post #8 of 146
So let's see...

It has been noted by countless devs and other tech blogs/pundits that it can be very difficult to distinguish your app and set it apart, so sales often suffer. And this has been such a problem, that even Apple has publicly stated it doesn't work well and are actively trying to improve app discovery.

So what if a clever dev , tired of waiting for Apple to improve this, made a complaint about their app being pirated? And what if it were interestingly timed because it is a soccer themed game during the World Cup? I bet it would get a lot of attention from the tech blogs, and therefore a lot of clicks from curious users. I'm betting it would even cause a spike in sales. And of course this Dev would never have to really prove that anything happened, just act peeved and complain about the unfairness and that Apple needs to fix their game center. Then, you just sort of let it fade to black, counting up all the extra app sales.

Interesting.
post #9 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

Apple can't tell which games are pirated.

If I, as a developer, can tell that my app is pirated, surely Apple can.
post #10 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

Apple can't tell which games are pirated.

I know. I was simply clarifying what the dev was requesting from Apple.
post #11 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

Apple can't tell which games are pirated.

Read the article and think before posting. You're incorrect.
post #12 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by hohlecow View Post

If I, as a developer, can tell that my app is pirated, surely Apple can.

You can tell that your app has been pirated, but you can't tell which ones were pirated.
post #13 of 146
Even if Apple could do this, and I'm not sure whether their existing technical limitations would permit it, Apple won't. To do so would degrade the consumer's experience in favour of the developer, and while Apple values developers, it values consumers more.

It was exactly the same thing back in iPod days. The recording industry complained that the iPod was a tool for pirates, and they hated the fact that CD rips could be put on it - they wanted it to be iTunes only. Apple told them to get stuffed, because to do what they wanted would have damaged the consumer experience. Apple would rather that 10 pirates enjoy a free game than 1 genuine user suffers inconvenience, which is why their DRM is invariably lightweight and non-intrusive.
post #14 of 146
If I buy the app with my iTunes account and my wife play it with her game center account. How can Apple know if it's pirated or not?
post #15 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Yohe View Post

Read the article and think before posting. You're incorrect.

no I'm not. Apple's implementation at present does not work. the jailbroken phones + cracked apps bypass the iTunes copy-protection scheme. It ends up running like a perfectly legitimate app.

Your comment is trollish at best.
post #16 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by hohlecow View Post

If I, as a developer, can tell that my app is pirated, surely Apple can.

Apple's copy-protestion is bypassed. The only way I can tell is by writing a subroutine in the app that does extra checks. And making sure no one knows exactly what I'm doing.

Every dev that has piracy-deterent measures implement them differently. If there were a standard, (there is) it would be (is) broken.
post #17 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

Same Devs will make an uproar when Apple tries to lock down and prevent jailbreaking, or tightens App Store policies to prevent piracy.

Can you imagine the uproar when Jailbroken devices' GameCenter games don't work.

No, I can't. Only those who benefit will howl. And since most of those who jailbreak CLAIM they don't do it to pirate, even though most do, what are they going to say? Hey, let us use our illegally obtained software?
post #18 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

no I'm not. Apple's implementation at present does not work. the jailbroken phones + cracked apps bypass the iTunes copy-protection scheme. It ends up running like a perfectly legitimate app.

Your comment is trollish at best.

Actually, you are wrong. Apple can and does check which apps have been purchased, this happens if a cracked app is updated through the AppStore. A prompt comes up to ask the user to purchase the app as it hasn't previously been purchased.

It would be quite simple to therefore also perform this check when gamecenter is launched, or just display stats for purchased apps in GC.
post #19 of 146
Ultimately this piracy is bad for jailbreakers, because the jailbreaking exception to the DMCA isn't perpetual, it's subject to review every few years. If jail-breaking ceases to be something that is required for legal purposes like network unlocking, and is primarily used for illegal purposes such as game piracy, the exception may not be renewed.

This is apple's logical solution to piracy on iOS- keep fighting against jail-breaking.
post #20 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJinTX View Post

So let's see...

It has been noted by countless devs and other tech blogs/pundits that it can be very difficult to distinguish your app and set it apart, so sales often suffer. And this has been such a problem, that even Apple has publicly stated it doesn't work well and are actively trying to improve app discovery.

So what if a clever dev , tired of waiting for Apple to improve this, made a complaint about their app being pirated? And what if it were interestingly timed because it is a soccer themed game during the World Cup? I bet it would get a lot of attention from the tech blogs, and therefore a lot of clicks from curious users. I'm betting it would even cause a spike in sales. And of course this Dev would never have to really prove that anything happened, just act peeved and complain about the unfairness and that Apple needs to fix their game center. Then, you just sort of let it fade to black, counting up all the extra app sales.

Interesting.

BS. It's been shown for years now that many apps are pirated, and the often pirated versions have as much as 90% of the users with the pirated versions. I would imagine that if timing is such that sales should peak during a specific period, such as when soccer is popular in the US, as now, when the finals approach, the developer would be frustrated that the big chance of making sales is lost because of pirating.

It would be good if there was a way of putting some code that couldn't be stripped out into an app so that it could be known that it wasn't bought legitimately, so that Gamecenter wouldn't allow it.
post #21 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

Same Devs will make an uproar when Apple tries to lock down and prevent jailbreaking, or tightens App Store policies to prevent piracy.

Can you imagine the uproar when Jailbroken devices' GameCenter games don't work.

What a ridiculous thing to say.

Who cares if a bunch of criminals don't have Game Centre? There is no good, legitimate reason to jailbreak your phone. If you do so to get "freedom" then you shouldn't get your nose out of joint if you are denied access to a paid service that you "freed" yourself from.
post #22 of 146
I don't write app for iPhone, but speaking as a dev I'm slightly shocked Apple has left it's own device open to piracy on that level. It wouldn't be that hard to make some DRM that isn't going to be hacked quite so simply.
post #23 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by TimUSCA View Post

You can tell that your app has been pirated, but you can't tell which ones were pirated.

Not from looking at a Game Centre screen, but by performing a simple piece of investigation into something as simple as checking the size of the executable in bytes, or a checksum etc, he can cross reference against the legitimate original upload and confirm if it's the same or not in about 3 lines of code. OK, as far as Game Center or even the OS (once Jailbroken) is concerned, it cannot tell if it's pirated, bought from the app store, or legitimate but bought from Cydia, but the dev can (and as intimated he already has - the one from the comments, not the article) tell the difference.

Me, I'd say it's a fine line from punishing the theifs and allowing them a certain leeway. It's entirely possible that by running a pirate version of the game they might spread word of mouth to 10 friends that it's a cool game which perhaps a further 1 of those 10 will purchase legitimately. Also, some subtle nag screen, increasing delays between levels or some such for detected pirate versions could potentially turn a pirate into a legitimate customer. But one thing is for sure, if I was a developer with an app, I would be certain to let the user KNOW that I knew, perhaps stamp an alternate home screen icon with something, or a lengthy splash screen saying as much etc.
post #24 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by cloudgazer View Post

Ultimately this piracy is bad for jailbreakers, because the jailbreaking exception to the DMCA isn't perpetual, it's subject to review every few years. If jail-breaking ceases to be something that is required for legal purposes like network unlocking, and is primarily used for illegal purposes such as game piracy, the exception may not be renewed.

This is apple's logical solution to piracy on iOS- keep fighting against jail-breaking.

Dude, I know you like to comment, but you should stick to things where you know the facts.

It's true that the exception will be reviewed, but it's already illegal to jailbreak for the purposes of stealing apps. The site where this app was downloaded is 100% illegal already and nothing about the review of the exception to jailbreaking is likely to change that.

They won't need to "lock it back down" because this kind of thing is already disallowed. Theft has never been legal.
post #25 of 146
Fair enough regarding Apple blocking only pirated apps.

Well, then is it a fair request that we don't get an uproar about Apple and its evil DRM then?

Because this is what it is. DRM. And most Tech people go crazy when they see that on their music, or videos, but on Apps they are okay with it.

To clarify my position, I think its okay (and Apple should) block pirated apps from functioning. What I wanted to point out was the hypocrisy in the tech world, which is okay with this as long as their stuff is protected, but not when they are prevented from using something (e.g. media).
post #26 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by timgriff84 View Post

I don't write app for iPhone, but speaking as a dev I'm slightly shocked Apple has left it's own device open to piracy on that level. It wouldn't be that hard to make some DRM that isn't going to be hacked quite so simply.

It doesn't even require DRM per se.

They just need to check the AppleID as it logs into Game Centre and see if the game was purchased by that account. If it wasn't then don't allow them to access it in Game Centre.

I would have assumed they were already doing this since Game Centre seems to know what apps I have, but I guess it's just checking what's present on the device at the moment.
post #27 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

BS. It's been shown for years now that many apps are pirated, and the often pirated versions have as much as 90% of the users with the pirated versions. I would imagine that if timing is such that sales should peak during a specific period, such as when soccer is popular in the US, as now, when the finals approach, the developer would be frustrated that the big chance of making sales is lost because of pirating.

It would be good if there was a way of putting some code that couldn't be stripped out into an app so that it could be known that it wasn't bought legitimately, so that Gamecenter wouldn't allow it.


I'm not accusing, just discussing interesting possibilities.
post #28 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by timgriff84 View Post

I don't write app for iPhone, but speaking as a dev I'm slightly shocked Apple has left it's own device open to piracy on that level. It wouldn't be that hard to make some DRM that isn't going to be hacked quite so simply.

I think that sadly hacking the DRM *IS* that easy. The only thing I am aware of that has not yet been hacked is iBooks FairPlay DRM. Everything else has, every games console, the Kindle, msuci and Blue Ray, it's too easy. But removing DRM automatically via a tool and reverse engineering an app to remove a nag screen, an honesty plea, or just annoying features such as an increasing delay etc is much harder to deal with, and let's face it that will not ever happen. Anyone talented enough to do that is likely already a developer, and therefore probably against the practise.

Un-DRMing like in a lot of PC indie games etc is cool but not the answer for me, the answer is almost a name and shame policy. I would grab the gamecenter name for anyone using a pirate version and highlight them as pirates in the in game scores table etc. It won't stop it, but it might reduce it a little. At the end of the day some people will always come up with any excuse to pirate when in reality it's that they are thiefs plain and simple.
post #29 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

It doesn't even require DRM per se.

They just need to check the AppleID as it logs into Game Centre and see if the game was purchased by that account. If it wasn't then don't allow them to access it in Game Centre.

I would have assumed they were already doing this since Game Centre seems to know what apps I have, but I guess it's just checking what's present on the device at the moment.

You can't have the same Game Center id on two devices you own. My iphone has to have a different ID than my iPad. I surely hope I don't have to buy each app twice to use it between my iPad and iPhone in the future (or my wife's devices).
post #30 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

I built an App. I have counter-measures and tracking for piracy embedded into the App. I have stats.

1 out of 10 users paid for it. (it's actually 9.17%)

It's the devs responsibility to add these measures. This is a well known fact.

How do you determine "pirated"? When an application is tied to a single iTunes account but frequent multiple devices, you can simply compare number of sales VS unique device IDs. Without being able to tie into iTunes, how do you know if the user bought the app or transfered from a different device?
post #31 of 146
Seriously? The game is freakin' 99 cents. Looks like Apple needs to ban 11,000 losers.
post #32 of 146
If it can technically be done (sounds like it can) then I agree, this kind of piracy check would be a great improvement to Game Center. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it happens; it simply hasn’t yet. GameCenter keeps evolving. I hope this change happens.

This would help me as a gamer in 3 ways:

1. It would help my favorite Game Center games’ creators sell their work, stay in business, and keep making updates and sequels for me to enjoy. Both by discouraging jailbreaking/piracy in general, and by making the specific experience of their game less fun unless you’re honest and pay.

2. It would help stop multiplayer and server-based games from being shut down due to server load. Some games use their own server for multiplayer or other purposes, and if their server traffic is increased by 10 while their income is not, that means added monthly cost: pirates are actually taking money directly out of the pockets of the people who made a game they enjoy! That’s one reason I’m afraid to ever make a server-based game unless it’s ad supported. And I hate ads! My 5000 legitimate customers will want their server kept running, while my 50,000 pirate users are forcing me to upgrade to a more costly server/connection! Depending what the figures are, I’d either have to shut down the game (no more fun for honest buyers) or take a loss forever. At least, that’s the hypothetical possibility that worries me.

3. It would help prevent high-score cheating, by only listing scores from legitimate, unmodified apps. (Plus it would reduce the number of high scores total, making it easier to climb the ranks. Which it should be, if only that number of people truly own the game legitimately.)
post #33 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

Your comment is trollish at best.

Thanks. But you're still wrong.

The developer in this article wants Apple to verify purchase of an application before allowing the apple account to post gamecetner scores. This is possible, they don't currently do this.
post #34 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by fabian9 View Post

Actually, you are wrong. Apple can and does check which apps have been purchased, this happens if a cracked app is updated through the AppStore. A prompt comes up to ask the user to purchase the app as it hasn't previously been purchased.

It would be quite simple to therefore also perform this check when gamecenter is launched, or just display stats for purchased apps in GC.


You are confusing iTunes vs App functionality.
post #35 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven N. View Post

How do you determine "pirated"? When an application is tied to a single iTunes account but frequent multiple devices, you can simply compare number of sales VS unique device IDs. Without being able to tie into iTunes, how do you know if the user bought the app or transfered from a different device?

Simply the size of the executable. Get it to check it's own file size, or checksum itself as part of the code that is in the published binary. Cross reference against known sizes for legitimate apps. Doesn't matter who runs it on what where with which ID and which game centre ID, the app can check itself and report back. Have some other bit of code that phones home to pull latest news etc from a blog and include a portion that drops the stats down on the quiet while it is happening and presto, apps that report home that they have an unrecognised checksum/size/datestamp, whatever. Technically this is probably not allowed, but as we are talking bytes of data I imagine it's amazingly simple to hide it in a news update procedure etc.
post #36 of 146
In my opinion if Apple can tell who is running stolen copies they should block it.

But if I buy a game with my iphone and I have another iphone that uses the same itunes account can use the app. That's apples built in agreement with developers.

So as long as a device is playing a game that purchases with a valid itunes account the game should be good. I dont know if apples can track all that.






------------------------------

Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

A game developer victimized by piracy via "jailbroken" iOS devices has expressed frustration that Apple's Game Center service is apparently fully functional for users who run stolen software.

GAMEized, the maker of the 99-cent iPhone and iPad game FingerKicks (iTunes link), told their story in a post on their official site this week. The tale of rampant piracy, highlighted Friday by TechCrunch, reveals that FingerKicks was pirated by 91 percent of those who have played it.

The developer discovered this because those who have stolen the game apparently still have their high scores posted on Apple's Game Center service for iOS. While the soccer-themed game has reportedly sold 1,163 legitimate copies, the developer said at least 15,950 pirated copies have been logged on Game Center.

The number of users who stole the application was helped by the fact that one illicit piracy service showcased FingerKicks as a "featured" game on its main page.

Frustrated by the situation, the developer has publicly questioned why Apple does not at the very least bar users with pirated software from utilizing the Game Center service. A Game Center account is tied to the same Apple ID used to purchase content from the App Store.

"Most bewildering of all is that even with all their rhetoric chastising piracy and intellectual property theft, Apple apparently has no functional counter-piracy safeguards in place on their Game Center -- essentially permitting users to play pirated software on their Game Center without fear of reprisals or consequence," GAMEized's Luis Fonseca wrote.



Despite frustration with what was characterized as a "humiliating piracy problem," the developer also added that they are fans of Apple's products and platforms, as evidenced by the fact that their game is exclusively available on iOS.

Users can install pirated software on iOS devices by "jailbreaking" the operating system. Jailbreaking is a warranty voiding process that exploits security holes in iOS in order to allow users to run unauthorized software.

While jailbreaking is legal and can be used for legitimate purposes such as custom themes and modifications to iOS, it can also be used for illegal purposes such as stealing applications from Apple's official App Store. For its part, Apple has warned users not to jailbreak, citing security risks.

The stigma of piracy connected to jailbreaking is not lost on the hackers who work to find the exploits in iOS. The latest browser-based jailbreak released earlier this month even pleads with users: "Please don't use this for piracy."
post #37 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Yohe View Post

Thanks. But you're still wrong.

The developer in this article wants Apple to verify purchase of an application before allowing the apple account to post gamecetner scores. This is possible, they don't currently do this.

I never said it was impossible. Apple has copy-protection built-in to every app. The cracking procedure strips that copy-protection out of the app. That's why devs should put in extra routines.
post #38 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Dude, I know you like to comment, but you should stick to things where you know the facts.

It's true that the exception will be reviewed, but it's already illegal to jailbreak for the purposes of stealing apps. The site where this app was downloaded is 100% illegal already and nothing about the review of the exception to jailbreaking is likely to change that.

They won't need to "lock it back down" because this kind of thing is already disallowed. Theft has never been legal.

Dude, I know you like to comment, but you should try to stick to things where you know the facts.

Since jail-breaking is legal, Apple cannot stop it. Apple has no standing regarding the downloading of pirated apps, which inevitably takes place on a different site from the distribution of jail-breaks. Should the jail-break DMCA ever be rescinded Apple will have standing in that instance and will no doubt aggressively attack jail-breakers with every legal and technical tool that they can.
post #39 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by katastroff View Post

You are confusing iTunes vs App functionality.

Would you mind elaborating on how I'm confusing anything here and what iTunes has to do with it?

The scenario I described above happens on the device, not on iTunes.
post #40 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by cloudgazer View Post

Dude, I know you like to comment, but you should try to stick to things where you know the facts.

Since jail-breaking is legal, Apple cannot stop it. Apple has no standing regarding the downloading of pirated apps, which inevitably takes place on a different site from the distribution of jail-breaks. Should the jail-break DMCA ever be rescinded Apple will have standing in that instance and will no doubt aggressively attack jail-breakers with every legal and technical tool that they can.

Last time i checked you don't even have to jailbreak to use cracked iOS apps.

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