Piracy On Android: How Bad Is It Really?

Joel Lee 04-02-2015

Piracy is nothing new. Content creators have had to deal with bootlegs, knockoffs, and illegitimate copies since the dawn of time. In fact, recent reports show that the rate of piracy on Google Google Piracy Hits Record High, Join Mark Zuckerberg's Book Club [Tech News Digest] Google's piracy problem, Zuckerberg's book club, Microsoft's $29 handset, Netflix's recommended TVs, Sony's PlayStation Now subscriptions, and penguins playing with an iPad. Read More hit a record high in 2014.


Or in other words, piracy isn’t going anywhere Why The Campaign Against Piracy Is A Farce [Opinion] DMCA, SOPA, MegaUpload shut down, piracy becoming a religion in Sweden - not a week goes by without some shutdown, anti-piracy laws or shocking statistics about torrents - and I have to ask myself, is... Read More anytime soon.

It should come as no surprise that Android is also overrun with pirates. But just how bad is the problem? What effects does it have on the app atmosphere? And how does it impact the mindset of app developers? Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t look so good.

Android App Piracy Is Rampant

Up until last month, the mobile piracy discussion was a relatively quiet hum punctuated by sporadic grumblings across the blogosphere. But when UsTwo tweeted a somewhat misleading statistic about their app’s piracy rates, the discussion flared back to life.

Does that mean Android suffers from a 95% piracy rate? Not exactly. UsTwo admitted that the figure wasn’t entirely accurate since a single purchase can often translate into multiple installs (e.g. across several devices). Plus, the numbers aren’t adjusted for the several “free download” campaigns that they’ve ran in the past.


But what we can’t forget is that pirates on Android have been a serious issue for many years. According to Android Authority, only 10% of the apps that were downloaded in 2012 were actually purchased, indicating that the rate of piracy was indeed somewhere around 90% — even back then.

Regardless of the exact number, one thing is for certain: piracy on Android is huge.


Some may remember the case of Dead Trigger, a mobile game that debuted with a $0.99 price tag on both Android and iOS. After being hit by such an unbelievably high piracy rate, the developers had no choice but to make the Android version free.


How high is “unbelievably high”? They didn’t provide any numbers, so we can’t know for sure, but it was significant enough to force a change in their revenue model.

And in 2013, a report by SlashGear showed a 95% piracy rate for Android games while the iOS counterparts of those same games showed a 5% piracy rate. To be fair, this is data from a single developer and likely isn’t representative of the entire industry, but it is a data point that shows how vast the disparity can be.

That being said, when so many sources claim that pirates make up around 90-95% of their userbase, you have to wonder if those numbers do indicate a wider trend.

Why Is Piracy So Prevalent on Android?

Because it’s free, duh!


While that’s definitely true, it doesn’t explain why Android users are much more likely to pirate their apps than iOS users. Is there something inherent to Android that makes it easier to pirate? Or worse, is there an aspect that perhaps even encourages piracy?

According to most, the answer is a resounding yes!


Matt Gemmell made some fantastic points when he explored the Android piracy landscape. His points boil down to this: Android users aren’t pirating due to frustration (e.g. inability to obtain what they want) or due to monetary considerations (e.g. apps are too expensive); they’re doing it because Android is designed for piracy.


The open philosophy of Android means pirating is just too easy. When you give users that much freedom and control, it’s inevitable that they’ll find workarounds. Meanwhile, iOS is a closed ecosystem with stricter regulations, making it much more difficult — but not impossible — for users to sideload illegitimate apps.


We also have to consider the actual users. The kinds of people who buy into the iOS environment are fundamentally different from the kinds of people who buy Android devices. I’m not trying to start a flame war. This is statistical fact.

Generally speaking, Android users are more savvy with technology and likely to fiddle with their device beyond a surface level. Android users are also more conservative with their money. On the other hand, iOS users tend to be more affluent, more likely to be content with their devices “as is”, and less likely to tinker with workarounds.

In other words, Android users want things for free and are clever enough to know how to get those things for free.

The Dangers of Pirating Android Apps

The unfortunate truth about Android piracy is that it’s causing some detrimental effects on the overall app ecosystem. If it continues like this into the coming years, we may find the Google Play Store turning into just a shell of what it is today.

The effects of piracy are harmful to developers in more ways than lost money.


For example, Play Store rankings. There are several factors that determine an app’s rank, including the “newness” of the app, the scoring and reviews, but also the number of times it’s installed every day. That last one is really important.

To pirate an app, you need to download an illegitimate version of the APK, and that illegitimate version isn’t downloaded from the Play Store — it’s downloaded elsewhere. These downloads from third-party sources aren’t counted as part of the Play Store stats.

This means that the app’s rank — and thus its visibility — takes a hit. While it’s typically argued that piracy actually increases visibility, that argument doesn’t hold true in cases like this where visibility mostly comes from one or two main resources (e.g. the Play Store).

Is it any wonder why we’ve seen a huge shift towards freemium models with in-app purchases? By keeping the download and installation free, developers are able to corral their installation stats on the Play Store.


Pirating apps can be dangerous for the user as well. In one word: malware.

In 2012, a study by F-Secure showed that over 99% of Android malware instances came from a source outside of the Play Store. While Google isn’t as strict as Apple as far as approval for which apps can show up on the store, they’re still good about keeping malicious apps out of the picture.

When you start installing APKs from elsewhere, you lose that layer of security. That risk alone is why we recommend against cracked Android apps Cracked Android Apps and Games: Read This Before Downloading The statistics don't lie: Most Android malware comes from outside Google Play. Downloading cracked apps -- or any type of app -- from a shady website or untrustworthy third-party app store is the way most... Read More .

Note: If you suspect that you have malware on your device, or if you don’t know how to tell if you are infected, check out these signs of Android malware infection Has Your Android Phone Been Infected with Malware? How does malware get on an Android device? After all, most users only install apps through the Play Store, and Google keeps a tight watch over that to make sure malware doesn't squeeze through, right?... Read More .

And There’s No End In Sight

Is there anything developers can do about this? Yes and no. While there are a few steps that can be taken to make the cracking process less convenient, a determined pirate will be able to break through any kind of app protection if given enough time.

In that sense, this whole issue is reminiscent of digital rights management (DRM) What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More and how ineffective it is when it comes to piracy prevention. The only way to reduce piracy on Android is to tackle the root problems: 1) how easy it is to pirate and 2) how willing the users are to pirate.

But since that would require a complete shift in the Android philosophy, I don’t expect to see that happen anytime soon.

If you pirate Android apps, why do you do it? What would convince you to stop? Do you think it’s even a problem? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Downloading Bar Via Shutterstock, App Manager Via Shutterstock, Woman Holding Android Via Shutterstock, Android Malware Via Shutterstock

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  1. Mateusz Symonowicz
    April 16, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Few years ago when i was a teen with no money to buy games with, i can tell for a fact that it was just to easy to download apks on android. When i got an apple device and the access was more restricted i have stoped doing it and started buying whenever i could.

    The only way to fix this huge issue is if android changed its policy and were more like apple with being more restrict, but that could allso mean androids downfall as in most people get it for the freedom it offers.

    From my point of view a sad one to add, devs can do little to tackle this issue. there are only few people including me that changed their mind becouse the issue is a big problem for the whole economy of mobile gaming.

  2. Armand
    September 22, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    As a developer, i must say it: android represents a HUGE waste of time for paid apps and games.
    In terms of security, to have a fully protected app, you need to rely on server side verifications to cut the rotten apple. But... Users will complain if they have to be connected to a network to start an app/game.

    Basically: the android user wants everything free, and that lead us to "mmo's" that are server based and use in app purchases.
    Of course, the quality of android games will greatly decimate progressively due to the fact that if you publish an app on the playstore, you will find it listed by GOOGLE ITSELF with a simple search.

    Google, encourages piracy. Bad business...

  3. Brian Young
    May 4, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Piracy is an ongoing issue on Android and does not only stop at Malware. These "pirates" (I guess you can call them) are modifying apps in a slew of ways like: removing ads, granting unlimited virtual currency, and even placing their own bundle IDs within your app. It's a large issue that most app developers will come across but are forced to ignore because of the lack of defenses around. There's a company called Tapcore that has an interesting approach here, they can detect these pirated installs and actually specifically target them with ads. Obviously it's not a fail proof end-all solution (because nothing is on android) but it's definitely something in the right direction.

  4. jake long
    October 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    i only pirate wallet sucking,greedy freemium,i support and buy good premium games with no IAP.actually i only love to pirate gameloft,those ripoff guys games are good for a dollar or two but not for 927 dollars iaps ! they are the ones who forced me to pirate android apps,and also there are honest and good developers like madfinger,1337,Senri.etc i never pirate their games.

  5. xorbing53
    July 16, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Honestly, after reading a couple of articles like this, I did start buying apps whenever possible. Most of the time, I might download a cracked version if I am not sure how the app is or if it is simply too costly (meaning I will never buy it anyway). As an example, there is a writer app on Mac App Store costing Rs 2800. No way in hell am I ever buying that. A bit more and I can get Office 365 for a year.

    But to all those people who don't own a Mac or an iPhone, let me tell you that apps on App Store are comparatively dirt cheap sometimes and almost as good (though not quite). Unless anyone wants to see iOS as the only mobile operating system developers want to make apps for, buy the occasional app.

    But coming back to the question as to why I might download a pirated app, I would have to say that it is often due to the fact that the dollar conversion rate translates to a ridiculously priced app. And of course, developers release in US and parts of Europe first and don't really bother with the other countries, meaning piracy is the only way we can get to use those apps and slowly, it becomes a habit everywhere else.

    • Joel Lee
      July 26, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      That's very cool that you'd reconsider your position and start buying apps when possible (if they're worth it of course). I'm thankful to be in the U.S. as the dollar conversions can be tough, or so I hear, and when an app isn't available due to regional availability, I can sympathize with pirates. Thanks for sharing, xorbing.

  6. Bastian
    June 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    I don't seem to find many apps these days that cost anything but as a novice programmer and person who likes to take something apart, I have tweaked things here and there. (if it were anything good I would brag but, total newbie. I load those on a phone that Is stuck with TMobile (who wont unlock) and the device I actually use, only has apps that I need. And They Be Free.

    I think the history of the software companies and the poor customer service and ridiculous price over the years for software, leave people with a feeling they deserve it. I have had many pieces of software I bought become unusable, or need to be upgraded for extra, or I installed it too many times, or (fill in the blank)

    If they are huge mega corp, I aint paying for their suite life.

  7. Nuclear Ivan
    March 13, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Well, I usually buy my apps but games are a different thing. I think mobile gaming is just a joke mostly. Sometimes I would download a game or two but I can't imagine paying for a mobile game is unless it's really high quality and interesting, with much effort put into it. I've got a feeling that the author mostly means games here.

  8. johnny
    January 28, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    The idea that iPhone users are more affluent is misleading. It's like Louis Vuitton bags, every 20 something girl shells out the $1000-2500 on the purse. Does that make them all "affluent"? No!

    Pirating apps for free is the #1 reason. Nobody will shell out money on numerous intangible goods (apps). Some apps don't offer trial periods and you must purchase the app before even knowing how it works. Second, app developers stop supporting apps. Like what happened with Nuance. They discontinued their Flex t9 keyboard, bought swype and repackaged the software and offered no info and no transfer and no discount to the thousands of ppl who paid for Flex t9. Third, bad reviews and back experience with the apps dissuades ppl from buying something they thing it's not worth the money.

  9. Justine
    May 19, 2015 at 12:24 am

    The only reason I pirate apps is there's little to no "trial versions" available on the app store. First I pirate it to see how well it works in my phone. I don't wanna waste money on a game that constantly crashes or doesn't work well halfway. Google Play's 15 minute window is not enough to assess an app's "workability". I usually delete the pirated app on my phone after I see that it runs good and beautiful on my phone. Then I buy it.

    • Anonymous
      August 14, 2015 at 11:12 am

      That reason is not really justified, mainly because pirated apps are usually outdated and tend to contain more bugs and issues. Also, it's not 15 minutes for a return, it's 2 hours now. 2 hours is plenty of time to test an app, even works on games. If you are still not satisfied with an app and it's beyond 2 hours all you have to do is e-mail support and they will refund your money as well.

  10. PlaGeRaN
    February 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Whether this is piracy or not, I only do this with free apps. I'm usually the one in the house that has the most data, so I'll update my whatsapp, games whatever is free version. and bluetooth it to my family members. Is that piracy? Sharing free apps with old devices that Play Store rejects?

    • Joel
      February 13, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      In the strictest sense, it **could** be piracy (if you define piracy as "acquiring digital data through unauthorized methods") but I don't think anyone would care much about it if it's free software to begin with.

  11. enric
    February 8, 2015 at 12:45 am

    I don't know why so many people like a colander ? I think that about Android.

  12. Boo Radley
    February 6, 2015 at 12:52 am

    "Microsoft Technical Support Experts" - isn't that an oxymoron?

  13. Kuti Botond
    February 5, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Of course, we pirate apps, we can, in a poor cuntry, where an iphone's price starts at 3-4x times of most salarys. From that money you will probably buy a low end smart phone (for the convinience), and that phone will surely be outdated fast. Or it whon't last much eider way. So why should these people pay for an app, if probably you whon't be able to use it much, because of a bad low-end phone or even a bad mid-end phone. Anroid is pretty much still unreliable beacuase you install 10 apps and the OS barely moves. Sure it's very unfair with the developers and I'm not saying that this is right, but I am not surprised by this. This is only one little shade of much bigger problems in this world, wich are responsible for these kind of worldwide problems.

  14. JoseRA
    February 5, 2015 at 1:37 am

    i get this game free in Amazon

  15. Sleet
    February 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Piracy On Android: How Bad Is It Really?
    We don't know, but let's wildly speculate by taking information completely out of context.

    In fact, let's even spell out that they're just comparing the number of purchases in the app store to the number of downloads. Which means that every time someone downloads a game a second time, it's 'pirated.' And every time someone pays for a game through some other means, like, say, Humble Bundle (who have been putting out enough android based bundles to give it its own tab), those downloads are being counted as 'pirated' as well.

    Frankly, I'm disappointed. But with a clickbaity title like that, I should have known there wasn't actually any new and useful information in here.

  16. Deere
    February 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    I blame mainly the poor design of Google Play Store, specifically flawed applicationhardware compatibility, lack of proper description (no I don't need badly translated crap, I need info whether it needs constant Internet connection, whether it's MMO or single player, whether it downloads additional 1Gb of data and such) and lack of trust in application's security.

    The way it works actually forces me to seek apks elsewhere, download them and run on some Android emulator.

    • Olivier
      February 4, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      I totally agree with you! The play store is a terrible application store with apps that are compatible not showing up in the list, and then showing you applications that are broken and crash upon launch. To me it would force users to download the apk and try it to see if app is fully compatible before buying, and then since the illegal apk is loaded (which is very easy to do by the way), why would a user buy something it has aquired for free?

      I'd love to see how many illegal apps are installed on Windows Phone? The number of illegal installations must be close to 0%, although I'm sure the number of purchases must be very low compared with Apple devices installs..

    • Joel
      February 4, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Excellent point. The Play Store could learn a lot from the App Store, at least in terms of consistency and quality. That would require some more regulation and oversight from Google though, which would probably cause a ruckus amongst Android users. Or maybe it wouldn't.

  17. likefunbutnot
    February 4, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I concur that this cannot be an accurate statistic. What I *can* believe is that users install and uninstall space-hogging games on devices with insufficient local storage.

    I do have a virtual machine set up to test suspect .APK files. Often as not, they're ground zero for Internet Herpes, mostly in the form of extra ad networks and pop-ups rather than outright viruses, I do suspect idiot kids who are willing to play a modded, pirated version of Plants Vs. Zombies 2 probably just as willing re-set their devices with stunning regularity. There's basically nothing that can be done to stop them, since many won't have unrestricted access to a credit card and the value proposition of $10 worth of Crystals or Hearts or whatever IAP currency is highly skewed for a minimum wage worker vs. a bored desk jockey.

  18. Johan
    February 4, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    If piracy drives developers towards freemium how come the most popular games on iOS are freemium as well?

    Looking at top grossing lists for iOS and Android on appannie it looks pretty much the same. Freemium apps with annoying iaps earns the most.

    • Joel
      February 6, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      There are certainly multiple reasons why freemium is so popular. Piracy is one of many.

  19. jamieg
    February 4, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    There is no way this is accurate. People who know how to side load is a miniscule percentage of all android users. And of those who know how to side load, a large percentage would have never bought the app anyhow, which means the app was doomed from the start.

    • Joel
      February 4, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      You'd be surprised, especially overseas in Asia where Android beats iOS by a hefty margin. Sideloading is popular over there.

    • Anonymous
      August 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Majority of Android is international, if it is in Asia for example they have a very censored government and they have no choice but to pirate in certain situations as well. If you lived in China, I'm sure you'd go through the effort of using VPN's and piracy to obtain things just because your government blocked google.

  20. Boo Radley
    February 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I can't speak for all users, but I have owned an iPhone in the past. It was the only smart phone I had used until a few months ago when I switched to an Android phone. The Note 4 just looked too good to pass up, even if it meant switching platforms!

    The reason I owned an iPhone wasn't because I didn't like to tinker... the fact is that I do like to tinker, and am always tweaking something on my computers. I have a couple of boxes I use just for playing around with different operating systems. I owned an iPhone because it had a reputation for being a great phone, whih was my primary concern. Not to say I didn't jailbreak because I did, but if I couldn't have that would have been okay too.

    Currently, there isn't much tinkering I can do with my Note because AT&T is my carrier, but as soon as I can I'm loading a custom ROM. That's mostly so I can control app permissions, though. Some apps have a legit need to access my camera or recorder, some don't. I want to be able to deny those that don't.

    • Joel
      February 4, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      Did you sideload any apps while using a jailbroken iPhone? Will you sideload with your Note when you can? Since you've used both systems, I'm interested to know if you feel more inclined to pirate on one or the other.

    • Doc
      February 5, 2015 at 12:43 am

      @Joel: Sideloading isn't only for pirated apps. There are plenty of other app stores (, Amazon Appstore, GetJar, F-Droid, AppsLib, MoboGenie, and more); Amazon has a free app every day, and occasionally (usually around holidays), a dozen or more.

      I'm thinking that a lot of Apple devices, once jailbroken, don't even show up because they only download apps from Cydia or sideloading; those wouldn't let *anybody* know what "pirated" apps are on them.

    • Joe
      February 5, 2015 at 2:00 am

      Why does it matter who your provider is? you can root anything you want on android.

    • Boo Radley
      February 6, 2015 at 12:43 am

      @Joel: I jailbroke so I could theme my phone, but I did install a few pirated apps that I wasn't sure I would like, but if I did like them I bought them in the App Store. Plus, Cydia offered apps that weren't available in the App Store, which added functionality to the iPhone. One of them is IntelliscreenX, which was well worth the $10 cost.

      I doubt I'll pirate once I can sideload on the Note, but I will check out some of the legit alternative app stores.

    • Boo Radley
      February 6, 2015 at 12:48 am

      @Joe: Actually, there is no root for the AT&T model yet. There's actually a bounty being offered to the first person who is able to root it... Google "AT&T Note 4 root bounty" for more info.