commentary Call me Gen Y for thinking so, but if people want something badly enough, they're going to find a way to get it. While that usually sets off the piracy alarm bells, what if it's not because you're a cheapskate, and the product is actually free?
Usually, when we think of piracy, we think about torrenting music and movies, but it isn't always a matter of cost. As Game of Thrones has shown, it can be about availability.
Australians took a cavalier attitude to pirating the popular TV series when they realised it wasn't yet available locally, even letting others know, via Twitter and Facebook, that they were doing so.
While there's always an inherent risk that visiting a sketchy torrent site might result in the user being infected with malware, the situation could be even worse with mobile applications. Despite this, mobile application developers are falling into the same trap of following old-fashioned geographical restrictions when it comes to distributing products, and worse still is that in some cases, their apps are free.
One of the differences between the media and mobile app industries is that it's rare that an artist's or studio's end product — a video, song or movie file — is directly responsible for infection when it comes to pirated TV shows or movies, but, in Android's case, downloading and installing Android Package (apk) files outside of the Google Play store is one of the main ways that malware authors get into their victims' phones.
Not paying a few dollars for an app may be one of the reasons why users choose to put themselves at risk, and that's a problem that has plagued any industry that can be digitalised. But what bends my brain is how developers and distributors can take a step backwards and encourage this behaviour with applications that are free.
Flipboard, which has Android users begging for a version for their device since it was released, was marketed as an exclusive for the Samsung Galaxy S III. But as Joseph Hanlon pointed out at our sister site CNET, it's been leaked. It reportedly wasn't even difficult to do so.
Of course Android users would download it off-market. And if an enterprising malware writer is paying attention, it would be a simple matter of packaging Flipboard into their own malware that sends premium-rate SMSes while you're not paying attention.
Some geographical restrictions make sense, such as Google Wallet, which needs the support of Australian payment providers. But other applications have users scratching their heads. Google Currents, for example, uses global content in its application, but it was limited to users within the US during its initial launch, and Swype's official installer has issues with Ice Cream Sandwich, but an unofficial version works fine.
It's generally accepted that if someone is going to pirate an app — and honestly, it's only a dollar or two for an app — then they should be prepared to bear the risk of being infected with malware. But developers that put seemingly ambiguous restrictions on free apps are just forcing their greatest fans into dangerous territory.