When The Cracked and The Cracker Meet: An iPhone Tale

35 Comments

Imagine sitting down to talk with the guy who just broke into your apartment and stole your TV. You might ask him, “Why did you steal my TV?” and he might answer “Because I wanted it.” or “Because I wanted to sell it.” In the real world, a thief’s motivations are generally not very complicated. On the internet, though, those who crack or otherwise pirate software usually aren’t after money, since they generally give away the fruits of their labour. Since that’s the case, a conversation between thief and victim might prove a little more useful.

And it did, for iPhone developer James Bossert, who together with his wife, Constance, developed the Whack’em All game, which is based on the concept of the popular carnival Whack A Mole game. According to an article at TorrentFreak, James took matters in to his own hands when he noticed one day that his user base had spiked, gaining over 400 users in one day, compared to the usual ten. Excited, he looked into the purchasing numbers via Apple, only to find out he’d only sold 12 copies, which was pretty much par for the course.

As it turned out, Whack’em All had been cracked and distributed to users with jailbroken iPhones. At this point, most people would’ve just sighed and gone about their business, but James contacted the cracker responsible for pirating his app via email and asked him why he’d done what he’d done. The answer was an outright condemnation of the App Store, and suggestions as to how, as a developer, James might avoid being cracked by offering free trials or ad supported releases. Here’s a quote from the cracker, via TorrentFreak:

As many iPhone and iPod touch owners have discovered, Apple’s iTunes App Store has many flaws which render it useless to the common user. Apple has chosen to allow a multitude of ridiculous, worthless, poorly-represented applications through its ’strict’ screening process, nearly all written by mediocre programmers with a dream of getting rich quick. Many of these programmers game the reviews system, misrepresent their application in the description, and generally try to swindle the honest buyer.

Regardless of what you think of his methods (i.e. stealing and distributing stolen software), the pirate in this case makes a number of valid points. He goes on to point the finger at Apple for refusing to allow users to download apps for an initial free trial period to test out the game and see if it’s worth the money. And we’ve seen review gaming in action.

Do you see this kind of thing as a valid form of protest against the sometimes tyrannical App Store? Or is this software cracker just going out of his way to justify what is still essentially just the basic desire to get something for nothing?

35 Comments

lol

ugh have you guys seen the apps for an iphone they are horrible the only reason that developers need a pat on the back for such simplistic games is because they had to deal with apples crappy software basically what i would want to get across by jailbreaking is not yay i can steal stuff it would be dang about time someone decided to take off those damn training wheels apple decided we all needed i really do freaking hate being told i am not allowed to do something when that something is mine so i will jail break but im not gonna waste my time with apples trash

Scott Earle

The first problem with all this is that whatever the cracker did, he is still NOT a ‘thief’. The thief is the person who stole the guy’s iPod and loose change from his car. After he did that, the guy didn’t have his loose change any more, and had lost his iPod. Or the thief who nicked the guy’s TV, meaning the guy can’t watch TV any more.

Most legal definitions of theft include the concept that once something is stolen from somebody, that person has been deprived the use of something that they had previously been able to use.

The second problem is that we are using the same logic as the music industry uses (and we hate those guys, right?) when they say that some student ‘stole’ 10,000 songs, and therefore they somehow lost the revenue from those 10,000 songs. Absolute hogwash. The student downloaded 10,000 songs BECAUSE it did not cost anything to download them – if he/she had not been able to download them for free, he/she would simply not have done it. So no measurable revenue was LOST. It was simply a lost sales opportunity – ask any online advertiser what the conversion rates are on online ads (another form of sales opportunity), and they will tell you that it’s around 0.3%.

But my real issue with the way this article has been pitched at us on here, is that the developer said that he had previously been getting in the order of 10 sales a day, pretty consistently – but then suddenly he noticed that he had had 400 downloads. Fantastic, he thinks, there’s 400 sales. But no there were in fact 12. To put it another way, he had LOST NO SALES. He used to get around 10 a day, and now he’s getting … around 10 a day.

As a person who has been a software developer for 22 years (is it really so long? Weep), I hate pirates and cannot in my own mind justify people who deprive developers of their living – but I also hate it when people try to rebadge piracy as theft.

You know that video clip they put at the front of a DVD when you HAVE ALREADY BOUGHT IT that says “you wouldn’t steal a car. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a mobile phone. You wouldn’t steal a DVD … (pause) … Downloading movies is theft.”

NO IT IS NOT.

However, it’s not big and it’s not clever.

If the movie and music industry had their own way, they would not allow me to lend my CDs or DVDs to my friends – that’s what the DRM on downloadable music actually does. ‘Selling’ (because you never actually BUY a movie – only the right to watch it) the physical medium which contains the movie is actually against their interests, because I can still lend it to my friends, or sell it on again later.

Anyway, to get back on topic: If the cracker is competent enough to crack other people’s apps, why the fsck is he not out there making a living from his skillz? And I mean legitimately! There are companies out there who are prepared to pay people on a monthly basis to program computers, you know. Or even better – why doesn’t he come up with his own idea for an application and try to make a living from selling it? Is it because he’s scared of pirates? Boo hoo.

fractured

I understand the need for trial versions of apps. I have spent roughly $100-$150 per month on the app store. I was also a major supporter of the jailbreak community BEFORE the app store. I can understand the frustration some people feel with some of the apps out there. For that matter, so does Apple.

Apple changed the way the rating system worked for the app store. Reviews were tied to purchases. The OS asks for a review when deleting an app from the iPhone. These are steps forward. Apple also made it possible for developers to give away licenses for trial versions, though the number is limited.

Jailbreak was a way of adding utility and value to the iPhone before Apple made it possible. The legality may be a little in the grey area, but nobody was harmed by it. Some developers emerged, creating fun and useful apps for the iPhone. Some found ways to make a little money with their creations. It was a way of seeing what was possible.

When Apple released the app store, the game changed. There was a legitimate way of getting this additional value from an iPhone. Some developers made the jump to the app store. Some still support jailbreak, presumably out of complacency with the old status quo, some due to Apples restrictions on functionality.

Many developers work hard for their apps. They put cash down on an idea, then they put it out, then they have to support the app if it makes it through Apple’s approval process. Regardless of whether they release to the app store or to the jailbreak community, they have a right to any revenue generated from the sales of the apps. It isn’t even a question.

If you don’t feel the app store’s policies are fair, don’t support it. If you don’t like an app, tell the developer. Tell Apple. Tell your friends. If you post that an app has little value, people will notice. Word of mouth is very powerful.

To justify cracking software by saying there are lousy apps out there is a shallow argument. Don’t crack the good stuff. Those are the developers you should support. If you must crack to try it, don’t then distribute it. How does that help your argument at all? If you like it, buy it. If you don’t, delete it. You’ll know the first time you try it if it feels worth the money. If it isn’t, get rid of it, then share your opinion.

Kevin

How many grocery stores are there?

How many app stores are there?
1.

I’m not saying he was right at all. I’m saying you have to understand the motivations behind the piracy and make them work to your advantage. The current system allows for no competition between stores, a rigid system, and takes a decent cut away from developers just for providing a unified download interface. It’s ridiculously dumb. If Apple had simply allowed people to distribute their own apps in their own manner with their own license plans, I feel like the app market would be much better. We would have trial periods and limited demos, and I would be willing to bet that open source iPhone apps would be in development. It’s simple speculation, though.

I hate to do this, but look at Radiohead. Better yet, look at Benn Jordan, aka The Flashbulb. He uploaded his own album to What.cd with a small HTML file that pointed people to his label’s site. He made thousands of dollars in donations in days. Look at the artists who upload their own music to torrent sites and even do interviews. Just like the music industry, the current system of distribution hurts the consumer.

I understand it’s wrong to crack and distribute the app, and as I said there will always be people who pirate no matter what. But I think that some of the people who pirated the app would have paid if there was a trial period or something.

AppBeacon

@Kevin – So, you can’t stand grocery stores. They’re full of stuff you don’t need, you can’t find what you want, that damn smiley cashier is so condescending, and the closest one isn’t just around the corner – its a WHOLE two blocks away.

So, you put spikes in the road next to your house. When the big truck rolling by pops all its tires, you whack the driver over the head, unlock the back of the truck. You and your neighbors have a free for all with the goods. You think that’s acceptable?

Sounds to me that’s what this cracker is doing. Of course there is the “now one is harmed” argument with digital. After all, no REAL goods were stolen, right?

It doesn’t fly. Both scenarios are wrong and we all know it. We just like to think it’s different because the MAN is keeping us from using things the way we want to.

Kevin

I think many of you are missing the point. Yes, we all know the cracker is a “thief.” Yes, we all know that people who are downloading the version are not giving money the dev deserves to him. But what’s driving them to pirate it? An awful distribution system. If the system was in the developer’s own hands, he could have the flexibility to release it like a shareware app for OS X with his own trial plan or license. With the current system, it’s all or nothing; you don’t know if you like it until you try it. Most people aren’t willing to take that risk, especially when it applies to _every_single_app_.

More power to this dev, since it seems like he actually understands the way to harness P2P in order to actually benefit. If only the music industry followed suit…

There will always be pirates who take things because they are free with no concern for who’s harmed. From what I’ve learned from torrent sites and other places, many of the people love to support artists and developers for what they do, but the distribution norms today really just screw the customer (i.e. try finding a CD by the Seattle band Crayon without turning to piracy).

I love Apple and will (probably) always support them, but they really need to get their heads out of their collective rear ends for this one. They’re trying to handle too many things at once, and it only hurts the developers and consumers all the more.

Sheldon McGee

Grocery stores may not let you try everything before you buy it but if you do buy something and you don’t like it you *can* bring it back. Not an option with software.

commandshift

I have been in contact with James and we talked a bit about the issue. I also mentioned a book which gave me a significantly better understanding on the topic of piracy and to understand and cherish many pirates (there are still some evil pirates out there). This was his suggestion:
“If you haven’t already, you might want to post a reply to the article with a nod to
the book [The Pirates Dilemma] as well.”

So, here you go: thepiratesdilemma.com
Buy the book or download it from the website. The author works as an consultant for some of the record companies as well as game-developers. He probably gives you a better and less-biased insight into this topic (voted best pirate of 2008 by BusinessWeek) as well as some information on the many many positive things pirates have done for our society.

good for pirates as well as non-pirates.

AppBeacon

Grocery stores don’t let customers sample the food before buying it. I’m going to steal baskets of food, take it out to the parking lot, and let people try before they buy.

That’s fair, right?

Sheldon McGee

Well, my example about “stealing to feed my daughter” was really just to say that sure, stealing is wrong, but maybe after talking to the thief you might sympathize and maybe even understand someone’s motivations.

And the point about not being able to buy the app because he’s in another country that doesn’t have iTunes or whatever just goes to show that maybe there is something else behind the theft that we just don’t know and maybe theft like this will make the system better.

About the PSP . . .sure, *I* didn’t use the software to steal games but it’s not like no one stole games as a result of the hacking of the PSP.

And yeah, my arguments are rationalizations . . . but my point is that all this theft, in the end, benefits us all. Would the music world change it’s model and become more efficient if stealing music was hard? Does it even make sense that someone can spend, say, 20 hours or so writing a song (yes, I’m making this up) and then get paid every time it’s played in the radio? I mean, right now I can buy a song for 99 cents and listen to it as much as I want but I can’t play it at the bar I own (I don’t own a bar). I can’t add that music to a video clip of my son playing football and put it on YouTube (I don’t have any kids yet). I have a license to use the music only in certain ways . . . it’s not really mine. So, I agreed to this when I bought the song . . . sorta since really, what I can and can’t do is really up to the law which changes all the time. Anyway, is it right the musicians get paid the way they do now and yet a waitress at IHOP only get’s paid $3/hour and has to claim $5/hour in tips but you didn’t tip her because she was late to bringing you your coffee. You stole from the waitress!

I really should think more about this and make it coherent before I post and not get so off track. Sorry.

Oh, and to Rolf who is worried about how the world is suffering . . . perhaps instead of reading “The Apple Blog” you may want to go and do something that will help relieve this suffering you are talking about. There is suffering but to think that all other problems are meaningless because someone else in the world has it worse, well, that’s not progress. Ignoring our DRM issues to worry about suffering in the world isn’t going to help relieve the suffering in the world.

Rolf Raess - Switzerland

I’m sorry, and it is my fault, not knowing that most people do not
read between the lines.
Please continue your very sophisticated discussion,
while the rest of the world suffers, and is fighting for the very existence …

Constantinos Koulombris

I will be brief, but first I would like to say that I do not condone what he has done.

Consider this, maybe the “hacker” can’t buy applications from the app store. You see in order to buy applications from the app store you need to be living in one the the countries where Apple gives the iPhone. If you don’t you don’t have the option of even accessing the app store for getting free apps.

So he motivation might simply be that he couldn’t get it otherwise.

Gazoobee

@ eefloee:

If I understand you correctly, you are arguing (and the way you argue it makes it sound like you are the actual cracker guy), that the app was bought for $.99 and could not be returned so that somehow justifies cracking it open and distributing it? This is lame and makes no sense.

If the app was bought and the person felt ripped off, why crack it open and them make it available to others? How does that post read? “Hey I found this @&#% app so I figured lots of others might like it too?” Yeah, that makes real sense.

Or maybe the cracker is “punishing” the app developer for having the gall to make the $.99 cent app??? That’s just juvenile revenge, not justice or anything honourable, and it’s not even “An eye for an eye,” it’s more like the Israeli “A thousand eyes for an eye,” kind of revenge. Over a $.99 cent app? A “Whack-A-Mole” app? Is there anyone in North America that doesn’t know what they are getting when they buy such a thing? How could this guy even be surprised or disappointed?

I actually agree with some of the pirates, crackers and hackers on some issues like DRM, but this is not that. There is nothing honourable, noble or smart about what this guy did, and there is no grey area at all here. This is not pirating a copy of Photoshop from a grasping, greedy, faceless corporation like Adobe, this is STEALING a $.99 app that some regular guy made for his daughter. He only sold twelve copies for cripes sake meaning this “developer” made about $8.30 on the app before it was stolen.

That’s low. Really low.

ten

I’m sorry Mr. McGee, but your pathetic story about the thief trying to feed his daughter is a crock. Stealing this app did not help him feed anybody. He didn’t make money by doing that and releasing it into the wild. On the other hand, the programmer has likely lost earnings that he could use to care for his or her family. Stealing is stealing. There is no justification. You may believe right and wrong is redefined every generation, but taking the fruits of someone else’s labor without their consent is stealing, plain and simple. Quit trying to rationalize inappropriate behavior.

Also, your little PSP loading app example is irrelevant. If you legitimately owned the games, then you didn’t take anything from anyone. This jerk took revenue away from someone else. He may as well have broken into his home and stolen cash or other goods. The hacker is a thief and a malicious one at that since he not only stole it for himself, he gave it away for free to others. No excuse for that crap.

joecab

Oh, what bull. That wouldn’t stop him. Besides they’re putting it on the phone already cracked and ready to go; it’s not like people are asking for it and they let them download the cracked version. This is as bad as listening to people’s justifications for stealing music digitally.

Sheldon McGee

I agree that it’s only $1 and for the hacker to go though all that is kinda nonsense but I honestly don’t think it’s about the money as it’s about the fact that you can’t be “dissatisfied” as a consumer and the system is broken and the cracker/hacker is making his stand by “breaking the system”. Like I said earlier, people have “broken the law” and done something “wrong” and the laws get changed and somehow it’s not wrong anymore as a result.

I’m not sure what time investment there was in cracking that app but if it was anything more than a few minutes then I say there must be something more to all this than “all crackers are thieves”.

I cracked my PSP and installed the firmware that made it so you could copy games from the UMD format (mini CD’s that are SLOW) to the memory stick so you could play from the memory stick and the load times were blindingly fast. That actually made the GTA games playable. I say thank goodness Dark_Alex (the hacker responsible for the early work on PSP mods . . a name I didn’t need to look up even though I haven’t messed with my PSP in over a year) did what he did. As a result, Sony is starting to get that UMD sucks too and is innovating and maybe the PSP2 you will just download all games and maybe they will make downloading so seemless and so easy that most people won’t bother trying to crack their new system.

Patrick

@Rolf Raess that has nothing to do with the article at all. That sort of whiny nonsense makes you sound uninformed and stupid. It also generally gives those in your country a bad reputation. This is not thepoliticalblog.com and I’m sure the writers here would be decently offended by someone treating their blog, their creation, as a soap box for you to stand on. Get off it and grow up.

That said – I can’t really imagine pirating an app that costs $1. I agree there should be a demo for most things but this is seriously $1. If you can’t afford $1 for an iPhone app then um how did you pay for your iPhone, and the service to begin with?

Now the question is – if Adobe charged $1 for Creative Suite, how much money would they make? Would it still be widely pirated?

dan

The cracker is an idiot. I just bought whack’em all for 99 cents. How can you go wrong buying anything that costs 1/10th of a top-shelf martini?

Sheldon McGee

I agree with Madcow about integrity and how it’s become a liability instead of an asset. But you have to live in the world and in this world we see companies hiring illegal workers because for some, capitalism means you do what it takes to make money and to make money one guy decides it’s okay to hire illegals to do such and such a job at a lower wage and then someone else does it and someone else does it just to compete and keep his business until finally we decide that it’s just normal and instead of it being illegal we just create a guest worker program or something like that. What is “right” and what is “wrong” is redefined every generation. From the 19th amendment all the way to banning smoking just about everywhere there is “right” and “wrong” and eventually we get it right (as long as we have education and a democracy it will hopefully continue to work that way). Sure, stealing/cracking digital media is “wrong” now but I think there is merit to trying to change the norms and get companies and society to be closer to “right” on social issues as well as in consumer rights. Sure, stealing is wrong but so is a policy that forbids you from returning a defective product.

Madcow

We live in an age where integrity is not an asset. It’s a liability..with some at least. We live in an age where we ‘do’, just because we can, and we can get away with it. There is no stealing. We simply ‘take’ or ‘share’ because someone else wasn’t smart enough to lock things up tightly enough. And you call this logic? It’s wrong. Digital theives NEVER have valid moral reasons for taking from others. What he did was wrong. Plain and simple. A man’s heart was filled with darkness when he took what did not belong to him, and then enabled others to do the same. How incredibly sad, and what a blight on the digital community. Let’s hope this “We do because we can” disease doesn’t become epidemic. Lending credibility, in any fashion, to thieves is wrong as well. Shame on the author.

eefloee

what some people do not understand:
you can not return something to the app store. it simly does not work. so your comparison with stealing from the shop simply shows that you did not understand the problem: I can not try an application before i buy it. if it is crap and does not what the developer said it would do, i simply lost money on something which:
first: can not be returned
second: can not be resold.

hacking (cracking actually…you guys never seem to get it right) is the simple consequence.

Kevin

Yes you can. Go into your account and find your previous purchases. Hit “Report a problem” and type in a reason. They will be glad to refund your money.

acepelon

Stealing bread to feed your family is one thing- hacking (which requires marketable, in-demand skills) an application for whatever reason isn’t justifiable. The programmer is not responsible for Apple. Mediocre apps abound, sure, and so do great ones. Gaming the system occurs. Yep. The hacker here proves his point by becoming the problem? Ridiculous. We can rationalize any kind of bad behavior. I would surely love for anyone stealing something from me to have the courage to take it from my hand. It would certainly give them pause and turn this rationalization crap to the nonsense it is.

Hobbes Doo

Amazing how people can turn a condemnable behaviour into a form of “protest”. There are no two way about it: pirating = stealing.

How about I hate the way the nearby department store organizes their clothes and I also don’t like the quality of some of the clothes they carry. Based on this “article” (emphasis on the quotation marks) I have the right to just walk in, grab a bunch of clothes and walk out without paying for any of them.

How can you expect to have quality applications in the AppStore is people are doing this to the developers?

You want people to put time and effort into creating good applications? If so don’t condole stealing.

Geoffrey Wiseman

Eh; I guess I’m less hard-line than the previous commenters. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call it a valid form of protest, but I’m not opposed to people using pirated software as a kind of free-form trial as long as they are willing to pay for the software they use with some regularity. The fact that the App Store doesn’t really support trial models well seems like a significant flaw. And, if it helps to support my case, I’m a software developer, so that means that I’m ok with people treating the software I develop accordingly. Unfortunately, since I mostly develop enterprise software, that’s largely academic.

Sheldon McGee

I don’t thing the issue is so black and white as to call the guy a thief. I mean, generally, if you were talking to someone who stole your TV (or your precious iPhone that would cost over $400 to replace a devise you probably only paid $199 for because of how AT&T pricing model is evil :)) maybe if you could talk to the thief you would find out that the guy was trying to feed his daughter (Biggie Smalls). Or maybe he was just going to get buy meth to get high. In either case, I would feel bad for the thief and it would suck to have to bust my bum to get money to buy something that someone else spent 2 minutes stealing from me but at least I could kinda understand. Just recently someone broke into my car and took all my loose change and an iPod and a few other things . . . but I didn’t fret about it much . . . not worth the time. In this case, the hacker actually has a well thought out response. We may not agree with his opinion but I’m glad he has at least thought about it. A thief to me is one who steals without reason.

That said I don’t agree with the hacker in this case. Apple didn’t hide how the app store was going to work and if you don’t like it the best way to express your opinion would be to not buy the iPhone in the first place and spend your time hacking up Android and making his own marketplace that he thought was right.

Gazoobee

I don’t read anything in this “cracker’s” remarks that is even on topic, let alone anything that justifies his actions. I challenge the author of this piece to point out any of his “many valid points.”

To be a “valid point” relative to the discussion at hand, it would have to be something that justifies the theft IMO. Here’s a parsing of what the guy actually said in plain speak:

1st sentence – (I think) a lot of folks don’t like some parts of the app store.
2nd sentence – There’s a lot of junky apps in the app store.
3rd sentence – (I think) some developers are being underhanded/misleading.

Therefore: I can steal stuff??? WTF? What a thesis!

He is actually tipping his hand here a bit in that reading between the lines, the only *real* motivation I can see is that he is sort of saying he stole it because most apps are junk and he wanted to steal a good one. Most likely he has made a pledge to never use the app store or something and sees his “liberation” of the applications not only as a blow for freedom or some such, but necessary to his lonely little world of stolen applications.

Jeff Lilly

Are you serious? How can you even ask if this is a valid form of protest!?

In order to protest, he’s taking the money out of the pockets of good and decent folks who 1) aren’t Apple and 2) can’t do anything about the App Store? Seriously?

The fact that you’re even asking the question of whether that it’s a valid protest means that you simply don’t get it.

Philip Downer

Ditto to Kelvin’s comment above. I agree that there should be a demo period available for new software, but using that as one’s justification for stealing another’s work is deplorable. The guy’s a thief.

Kelvin Water

The hacker’s a thief. There is no justification for what he’s done. He’s stolen an application and then released it into the wild for other thieves to exploit.
If iTunes ran their processes any differently the thief would find some other reason in their own head to justify stealing.

Kevin

Exactly. He’s been caught red-handed stealing somebody else’s hard work and he’s coming up with a lame excuse.

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