How Google Stole My App

by Dmitry Kirsanov 9. April 2017 08:16

ipt2A lesson for mobile developers.

When you steal from IT corporation, it’s a theft. When corporation steals from you – it’s a progress.

You may live through an event in your life, when stars align and you discover a new niche, where you would be a pioneer. Get the moment of enlightenment, hectically lookup the Internet for solutions and be amazed that no one else did that. You would actually be the first. And there is no guarantee, that it will be success – in a heap of millions of apps and websites and info-noise of events, things are missed. In Android alone, there are 2.8 millions of apps today, and it’s still growing.

Indie projects are akin to live creatures – born in a coincidence that looks like a miracle, they start small and weak, just like most creatures on our planet – and they don’t look like what they will in a few months from now. At that time they are easiest to snatch by all sorts of predators and the nature.

How much it costs to make an app

I calculated, that getting one new user for a mobile app will cost you around 1 USD. That is irrelevant to the platform, the number is the same for Android, iOS and even Windows Phone. At first, you may notice that more people installed your app than you paid for, and it makes investment look less than 1 dollar per installation. But soon many of the pioneers uninstall the app, because their attention span is shorter than your apps learning curve. That’s when you settle at one dollar per installation, taken that your advert was adequate and campaign smart.

By adequate advert I mean that it should be interesting and maybe even fun, it should kindle the interest. And smart is, for example, placement. When, where and how you would place your app. If it’s an app about Irish pubs, then perhaps you should display it in Ireland during Thursday / Friday.

In order for the app to lift up, to start a life of a snowball running down the hill, it needs to have at least 1000 adopters. That is – active users, not just installations. These people must adopt the app, use it regularly. That is when the most important and efficient advertisement starts to work – the word of mouth.

To sum it up, you need to invest time and money into exploring the market, just to ensure that you are not reinventing the wheel. Then you need to describe the idea and change it a few times in order to cover larger or more important audience. Then you should invest both time and money into the technologic part of the solution – find out whether what you want to do is currently feasible.

Some doors require a special key

For example, in Windows Phone before Cortana, it was technically impossible to create anything like Cortana / Siri / Google Now. Because Microsoft did everything to reduce the competition. You couldn’t send or receive SMS – and that’s paramount feature of apps like Cortana – because, according to Microsoft, “you don’t really need it and it poses a security risk”. It stopped being a security risk when Microsoft secured the niche. Now, if you are still interested in Windows Phone, you can send and read SMS from your app.

But if you think that Microsoft is evil, consider this – in iOS you still can’t read and send SMS, although Apple’s Siri can do it. We point our fingers at what is in the spotlight, but we don’t see what’s left in shadow. A behaviour like this is very typical for corporation.

The First Step

After you ensured that technically your idea is doable, and no one else did it better than you, you can start making it. At that stage you have few goals and advantages worth mentioning. First, you are faster than your competitors are, because in a large company creating new product may take months – meetings, decisions, more meetings, budgets, resources – you have already done your research and make all decisions way faster. However, once they are on it, they can easily pull you out of competition, by assigning incomparably larger budgets to advertisement and resources (such as more developers, designers, PR, whatever else). And that means that you should gain the momentum before they notice you and consider your idea free to take.

However, in some cases they may have unobvious handicap. It depends from who they are. The modern mobile world belongs to Google. Less – to Apple. And almost nothing – to Microsoft. But if you are building something that will run on their platform, using their tools (e.g. Android Studio, Visual Studio or XCode), their source repository and cloud storage (TFS Online, OneDrive or even just Google Drive) and depend from these same companies for advertisement of your new app – you are in a spotlight from the day before you start alpha-testing your app. Even before you are telling about your app to first person – they already know.

This idea was free, wasn’t it?

By the time you look at the adoption graph of your pilot release and wonder how precise your prediction was, somewhere in the office of Company X a hypothetic Prakash Kumar (I guess John Doe got his job outsourced to India, hence the name), a lead engineer of Product Y in Company X’s outsourced division, is already weaving your idea into a braid of his career.

It doesn’t have to be Google, Microsoft or Apple. It could be Amazon, Virgin or you name it. I don’t believe that it is the policy of any of those companies to steal ideas, but with millions of solutions around the world the company may not notice in time that what their employee is offering is, in fact, a theft. And the only thing they can do when the fact is uncovered is to defend their position and investment, using their resources. Even if their position in intellectual property ground may be weaker, the resources put into the unjust legal brawl may compensate.

We live in a world of illusions. We think that if something bad is possible, it won’t happen, because … And that’s where fantasies start. We read stories from WikiLeaks and Slashdot as a daily portion of entertainment, thinking that we won’t eventually become entertainers.

That’s what I thought when I created an application for Google platform, that was distributed through Google distribution centre, with source code stored on Google servers, bought advertisement from Google and did all the research and development to prove that idea was worth development.

My Case

I made a fairly simple but unique application, that would allow people to share their location for a limited period of time and share it with strangers. With dynamic updates and perfect anonymity from anyone but Google. And yes, Google knew who installed it, how they used it and stuff. Obviously, as they own all parts of the chain.

It was a matter of time until they figured out they could just copy it to profit. And so they did. They won’t make it anonymous, of course, because in that case they won’t spy on you and profit on your habits. But other than that, it’s a full copy.

But Google doesn’t go the half-way to make sure the theft goes unnoticed. They also added some of my websites to their “blacklist”, to ensure that you wouldn’t see this. Their website “stopbadware.org” is “independent” entity that is using Google blacklist to stop you from visiting the page when you are using Firefox, another service is using the same blacklist for Chrome. A coincidence? I really doubt it.

reportedattackpage


It’s obvious that these websites were not hacked, are not malicious etc. It’s just a “muscle playing” from the corporation that thinks that it can take what it wants without consequences.

You can see the app here: http://locac.io

And here is the video from Google about the future feature of Google Maps. Published half-year after Locacio:

 

Resume

When creating the mobile app, make sure you are not tied to one platform. Release it to 2-3 platforms at once, don’t wait. Yes, it makes things more complex and expensive, but otherwise you are risking losing it all.

Do not wait with advertisement. Do it quick, or the only one who will know about your app will be your competitor or someone who will think this idea is free to take.

Do not depend from one provider, no matter what provider we are talking about. Besides, my app particular app does not depend from Google, doesn’t use Google Services, but it was built for Android, distributed by Google and can be taken offline at any moment without notice, by Google.

Document well! Make screenshots of everything you do – publishing apps (make sure the date is in the screen), buying adverts, watching reports about app early adoption. Make screenshots of online chats where you speak about your app. Again, the date stamp should be in the screenshot.

If you suspect that theft by a large corporation is possible, check Google and Bing for possible blocks of your website or services. Visit your app page and browse the app category in market / store. Same thing goes about Facebook, if your app enhances their service and could potentially become a “feature” of the service later.

Do not store your source code in the cloud, if that cloud belongs or is somehow linked to a possible source of threat. Meaning that first you have to assess the threats.

You have to keep in mind, that if your idea is bright, the light won’t go unnoticed.

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