Learn how to design a comprehensive app enforcement strategy to help your enterprise protect it’s IP, consumers, and mobile commerce revenue from infringing mobile apps.
Mobile apps have risen to become one of the most popular ways for consumers to connect with brands. In a report released by Statista.com, mobile apps are expected to generate over $581.9 billion in revenue this year. With this level of revenue, it’s no surprise bad actors are looking to profit.
While major app platforms employ precautions to reduce uploads of nefarious apps, cybercriminals continue to find ways to bypass these security measures. With over 2,000 new apps being introduced to the major app stores every day, it’s up to brand holders to be proactive when it comes to protecting their intellectual property, their consumers and their mobile commerce, or m-commerce, revenues.
Read on this article outlining how to design an app enforcement strategy that addresses the risks posed to your business by infringing mobile apps. Topics Include:
- How your mobile commerce goals impact your enforcement strategy
- How to carry out enforcement at scale
- How to build an efficient enforcement framework
- Start taking fast action today to protect your brand from infringing apps.
Mobile commerce goals drive your enforcement strategy
Brand holders face countless threats in the mobile app space. Just one bad app can seriously damage the reputation of even the best-known brands and impact carefully-nurtured customer relationships.
Branded apps are a critical part of the consumer/company relationship. Forty-nine percent of all website traffic now comes from mobile users and 58% of shoppers report consistently browsing e-commerce apps or websites on their mobile phones, with at least 38% doing so at least once a week.
With this increase in screen time comes an increase in online spending with m-commerce growing by 70% in the past two years. Last year’s holiday season saw over one-third of all online purchases being done via smartphones. Black Friday 2019 alone raked in a record 2.9 billion dollars in revenue from smartphone transactions, a 15.8% increase from 2018. Branded apps are booming, and not just during the holiday season.
In our increasingly digital world, consumers connecting with brands via apps have become some of the most profitable and engaged customers. Studies show that 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience and 76% of customers who identify as loyal to a specific brand have downloaded that company’s branded app.
Furthermore, the app economy shows no signs of slowing down. Experts predict people will spend a total of 3.5 trillion hours on mobile apps by next year, generating revenue of over 6.3 trillion dollars. Following this trajectory, it’s estimated that m-commerce sales will account for more than half of all e-commerce sales by 2021. Financial institutions are also seeing an increase in business conducted via mobile apps with 30% of Americans reporting they prefer mobile banking over other banking methods.
As branded apps have grown in popularity with consumers, the number of inauthentic apps being released into the market by bad actors has also exploded. Infringing apps have become the fastest-growing threat to consumers, with malicious activity and fraud attacks linked to them increasing by 191% from 2018 to 2019. The McAfee Mobile Threat Report 2019 reported that almost 65,000 new nefarious apps were detected in December of 2018 alone.
While those apps made money via serving ads, other apps trick victims into sharing their login credentials and financial information. Bad actors are using intellectual property like trademarks, logos, and copyrighted content to fool unsuspecting consumers into thinking an app is affiliated or even created by a specific brand. Lured by the appeal of well-known intellectual property, consumers load these nefarious apps onto their phones and device, making them vulnerable to data theft, scams, or other threats.
Modern bad actors have gotten so good at cloning legitimate apps that many consumers have difficulty determining the difference between a spoof app and the real version. Malicious apps now make up over 29% of all global fraud.
One of the drivers behind the explosion of abusive apps is how easy it has become to create apps. Gone are the days when deep programming expertise was required to design, write, and distribute apps. With the emergence of inexpensive cloud hosting and the availability of rich libraries of mobile code that can be downloaded from Github and other code repositories, developers with modest technical skillsets can now write and launch apps professionally and speedily. Sadly, along with the convenience of off-the-shelf code comes the risk of developers inadvertently integrating malware and other threats directly into their apps, creating secondary risks for brands and their mobile users.
While the inadvertent distribution of malware is a problem for brands defending their users’ mobile experiences, the intentional distribution of ill-intended mobile apps is a serious issue. Malicious actors depend on the notoriety of well-known brands to promote their wares, and while all stores offer definitive mitigation for malware, the cost of downloading, analyzing, and identifying malware is an expensive undertaking.
It is far easier, faster, and less expensive to identify and mitigate brand-related threats and have them removed based on intellectual property abuse than the aforementioned technical process, so intellectual property rights are an excellent first line of defense. However, recidivist actors who repeatedly use brands to distribute malicious code may require escalated action against the publisher.
These types of problems directly impact the safety and security of your customers and your ability to maintain trusted relationships with them – and affect your ability to grow your mobile commerce business. Combating these types of infringement requires a strong and swift response. Another type of infringement, however, stems from partners, franchisees, or even your fans.
Fans, for example, may wish to extend the functionality of your branded app or create an ‘homage’ to your app by developing new filters, stickers, or characters. Partners and franchisees are interested in serving your shared customers, but divert them from your branded app to one of their own where they can transact business directly.
While not created with malicious intent, these types of infringing apps affect your ability to form a direct relationship with your customers, causing confusion and potentially impacting customer service.
With so much business in the digital world driven by word of mouth, reviews, and social shares, these misguided apps siphon off customers and potential customers from your branded apps and can negatively impact your growth potential in mobile commerce.
Effectively addressing this type of infringement may require a more nuanced approach to enforcement since the infringers are valuable members of your brand ecosystem – your fans and business partners.
Given the importance of this channel, ensuring users and customers get the authentic brand experience they expect means that brands need to incorporate a comprehensive mobile apps component into their brand protection and security strategies. Statistics indicate that 40% of users will go to a competitor after a bad mobile experience, which means regardless of the infringement category, the rapid response should be your number one priority.
Enforcement at scale
Mitigating the potential damage that may result from an infringing app requires immediate action on the part of your enforcement team. Ensuring a strong foundation for successful enforcement is vital.
Begin by using a customer mindset. Work with your marketing team to determine the search terms your customers are using to find you online, including your company brand and variations such as common misspellings or abbreviations. Be sure to include specific product brand names and any words, hashtags, phrases, or marketing slogans associated with your company. These are the same terms that bad actors will use to lure your customers away. Set up a monitoring system to alert your brand protection team when those words are used in app stores and online searches.
Consider your intellectual property portfolio and how it might be leveraged or enhanced to further protect your mobile users and your business. Are you able to marshal your trademarks, copyrights, and patents to effectively identify, enforce, and mitigate abuse? How do malicious actors target your users based on your intellectual property assets?
Considering bad actors’ historical use of your assets, as you introduce new apps, products, and services, what filings must you make to ensure safety and security for your mobile users? Will you be able to identify your intellectual property within app marketplaces so that you can take fast action based on images, text, and code that malicious actors employ to confuse and abuse?
Set your enforcement team up for success with an efficient workflow. Establish a framework for action with clear guidelines that allow your enforcement team to make decisions quickly and escalate issues as needed. Whether your team is made up of internal staff or external experts, your legal counsel must be involved in setting these guidelines.
When it comes to your customers’ safety or security, time is of the essence. Responses to these types of infringing apps must be swift and decisive. The longer an infringing app is live, the longer it has to lure in unsuspecting victims and wreak havoc on your brand.
If the infringement is taking place on one of the major app stores, enforcement activity needs to be taken up directly with the store in which the infringing app is located. Make sure your claim is thoroughly documented and demonstrates evidence of the infringement and the legal basis for the claim, such as trademark registration information. You may also need to demonstrate how the offending app has violated any of the app store’s Terms of Services policies (TOS).
Some of the major app stores list publisher contact info for apps while others require a formal report or complaint before releasing contact information for the developer who created the infringing app. This is especially true in cases when the app may have been created by an overzealous fan or misguided franchisee with whom you wish to have a dialogue rather than an immediate takedown.
Because these types of infringement are carried out by valued members of your brand’s ecosystem, they require more sensitivity when handling. It is best to minimize the risk of these types of problems occurring at all by publishing clear guidelines on how third-parties can use your brand.
These guidelines should include information about copyrights and trademarks, logo usage, and acceptable use guidelines, including examples of proper and improper usage. While you do not want to be in the position of advising developers on how to create apps, you do want to be sure they have a clear framework for using your trademarks or other intellectual property in a way that protects your property.
These points are especially important if a third-party ecosystem is an important growth driver to your brand or business goals.
You may also want to consider creating co-marketing or technical partnerships with developers that include contractual terms of engagement. These terms will provide additional leverage should you need to ask the developer to resolve infringement issues.
In situations where you have a partnership with a developer, it may be possible to reach out to them directly before initiating formal processes with the app stores. Similarly, both Google Play and Amazon typically list publisher contact information, meaning it may be possible to resolve with the developer before having to resort to going to the app store directly.
If your enforcement efforts with app stores are unsuccessful, outside counsel may have to become involved. Counsel may recommend continued escalation such as an attorney cease-and-desist letter filing a civil action, and/or working with law enforcement in the case of fraud or other criminal activity.
Mobile App enforcement considerations
Setting Up an Efficient Mobile App Enforcement Framework. Topics to consider for your framework include:
- What kind of documentation about the infringement should be gathered, such as screenshots? In cases where an app is suspected to contain malware, you may want to consider having your forensic team download it for in-depth analysis.
- How to determine when an infringement can be dealt with in-house, with brand protection vendors, and when it must be escalated to legal counsel.
- Setting up staff training sessions to ensure familiarity with the different app store tools including reporting forms and the unique processes each store employs. App stores often delay enforcement or are unable to enforce upon abusive apps if forms are not completed correctly and completely.
- Ensuring that all applicable trademark and copyright information for your brand is available in a centralized location should that documentation be required for your claims.
- Identifying approved developers, licensees, and Application Programming Interface (API) partners on an ‘allow’ list to require an extra level of scrutiny that can help prevent accidental enforcements.
- Create protocols for ensuring that enforcement staff chooses the broadest enforcement option possible. For example, enforcement based on copyright infringement is generally global, while trademark-based enforcement is only applicable in the regions where companies hold trademarks.
- Search for the infringing apps found and enforced upon in an individual store in other primary stores, their international stores, in localized language, as well as third-party and “sideloading” sites. Publishers that are banned in one app marketplace flee to others or take other actions to avoid being banned from distributing their nefarious applications.
- Systemically deconstruct the intent of the infringing app and seek to eradicate the issue at its source. For example, if an app is seeking to distribute your copyrighted material, find the host and take down the source host via the DMCA or the European Copyright Directive.
- Look for recidivist app publishers and developers and seek escalated actions against them in app stores, and for the most egregious, through civil or criminal prosecution.
Having a comprehensive brand protection plan in place can help streamline your enforcement process and enable you to spot infringing apps before they become a threat to your m-commerce initiatives.
Understanding the types of infringement that can occur and the impact they can have on your customer relationships and business goals should be a vital component of your plan. Providing a framework for action to your staff is also key for rapid and effective enforcement, especially in the face of threats to safety and security.
One of the most effective ways to increase compliance for enforcement efforts is to partner with a brand protection company that is well-versed in the world of apps and mobile commerce. With thousands of new apps being uploaded every day in multiple app stores, maintaining vigilance can be overwhelming. A brand protection company that is familiar with the enforcement methods for each store is key to swift, streamlined, and effective enforcement. You’ll enjoy peace of mind while freeing resources and attention to focus on engaging with your customers and advancing your mobile and m-commerce initiatives.
Source: Appdetex: Brand Protection