App Knockoffs Thrive On Google’s Watch

Google’s “automatic approval” policy for the Chrome Web Store and Android App Market is great for growing the number of available apps. But the low barrier to entry also means developers can sneak in with apps that are malicious or buggy.

It also means developers can coast on someone else’s good name. There are pages of unofficial extensions and apps in the Chrome Web Store that appropriate the Facebook name and logo, for example. There are also unofficial apps that use the Walmart logo and some using the Dropbox logo.

This is a big deal for brands, especially for individual developers who aren’t as established as Facebook (or Walmart). Letting infringements go unchallenged can threaten a copyright holder’s claim on a name or logo.

Marco Arment left his position as CTO of Tumblr to build Instapaper, an iPhone and iPad app for downloading articles to read later. Instapaper has become wildly popular. But it’s only available on three platforms: the iPhone, the iPad and the Web. This limited availability spurred unaffiliated developers to create Instapaper Chrome extensions, Android apps and a Chrome “app” that’s not even an app, just a larger bookmarklet that leads to the real Instapaper site.

Mr. Arment even gets complaints and support questions from confused users about the unofficial apps.

“It’s difficult for me to police all of the various new marketplaces and ‘app stores’ for people using the exact Instapaper name and icon and fill out everyone’s long, paperwork-intensive complaint forms, since I’m only one person,” he said told The Observer an email. “I get support emails every day for third-party extensions or apps that I didn’t write and have never even seen, since people mistakenly think they’re official. It would be nice if the companies setting up these marketplaces would make reasonable efforts to prevent obvious trademark and copyright infringement from appearing, but very few of them do.”

Apps in the Apple Mac App Store and iPhone App Store are vetted by Apple, but Google isn’t interested in shouldering that burden. Here’s what the company says about trademark infringement in the Android App Market:

As a courtesy to trademark owners, we are willing to perform a limited investigation of reasonable complaints.


One Android developer is charging $1.99 for an unofficial app called “Save to Instapaper” that uses the Instapaper logo—an extra affront since the official app is free (there is a paid version with a few extra features, mostly downloaded by people who want to support Mr. Arment).

Mr. Arment has complained to Google about his many imitators in the Chrome Web Store and App Market, but so far, the company has not responded. It didn’t respond to The Observer’s request for comment, either.

ajeffries [at] | @adrjeffries


App Knockoffs Thrive On Google’s Watch