YOU ARE AT:OpinionWho’s minding the app store?

Who’s minding the app store?

Apps have become an indispensable tool for companies in virtually every industry. In the want-it-now, mobile-driven world, apps provide the essential means of extending a brand, building or reinforcing a relationship with customers, and creating the ever-increasing stickiness needed for customer retention. At the same time, apps have become a soft underbelly for organizations, resulting from a proliferation of bootlegged apps that may be phony, cracked, blacklisted, or otherwise uncontrolled. The results of these unauthorized app releases range from nefarious to a dissipation of value for the business. What was intended to drive customer value becomes hijacked or, worse, becomes the means for malicious or criminal acts.

The app store jungle
Today, there are more than 500 app stores or distribution portals. Back in 2008, depending on how you measure it, there were only approximately 35 mobile application stores in the world, many predating Apple and Google sites. While the Apple and Google sites today still command the greatest level of activity, people will download apps from a broad array of sources.

Complexity comes not just from the volume of stores, but also from the tangled relationships that exist in the delivery infrastructure. Sorting out good and bad is often difficult. Apps in one portal may reside in another place entirely. Some might be delivered correctly, but others might have been compromised with malware. Some may deliver a counterfeit version of the app that is beyond the control of the app developer/owner.

Loss of control
The trouble is that of the myriad places an app may exist, the owner of the legitimate app may control only a handful of them. App delivery has become the new Wild West. In one recent study, based on our continuous knowledge of internet and mobile traffic, 90% of the apps from 45 companies analyzed resided in unofficial, unsanctioned app stores. Only 10% were in official stores and fully under the control of the company that owned them. This is the typical ratio we encounter.

With such a scant proportion of apps under the control of their rightful owners, results range from a dissipation of value to serious brand and reputation damage. The apps meant to represent the brand, improve value and facilitate communication and information flow suddenly cease to operate as designed. First, the communications flow may be curtailed, so it is difficult to even record an accurate download count. Data gathered from the app may or may not make it back to the owner. Updates and fixes may not occur, so the app may stop working properly and reflect poorly on the brand holder.

Bad things happen to good apps
Worse yet, the app may cause damage to the user. A cracked app or one that has been modified or bundled with a risky application could cause performance degradation, interfere with other computing processes or serve as the means of compromising a user’s credentials or machine, serving as the entry point for a data breach. 17% of the apps sourced from unofficial app stores contain malware or links to malicious sites, according to RiskIQ data. It is possible that the app that bears the brand and name of an honorable company becomes an instrument for cybercrime. Fingers will point back to that company, and a large-scale public relations crisis could ensue.

With the importance of apps to today’s digital strategies for business and given the realities of unsanctioned app distribution, it is crucial that companies monitor and police the distribution and use of their apps. This requires technology that gives you:

  • Visibility of their entire mobile app footprint
  • Continuous monitoring of major app stores for new appearances of app or brand mentions
  • Understanding of where your brand is used in app names and descriptions

In the Wild, Wild West of app use and distribution, companies either can claim and reinforce new territory or meet significant defeat. Having a proper sheriff makes all the difference.

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