How Many Questionable Assumptions Can You Layer On Top Of Each Other To Estimate Bogus 'Losses' From Unauthorized iPhone App Downloads?

from the let-me-count-the-ways dept

A while back someone had sent me to a website I'd never heard of called 24/7 Wall St. that had a post claiming how much certain top blogs were "worth." The reason someone pointed me to it was because it had Techdirt in the list. What was amusing was that whoever wrote the article made a bunch of assumptions and every single one of them was wrong -- and some of them could have been checked with a simple look at our website. Given that every single assumption was wrong, the conclusion was equally laughable. I actually emailed them to point out a few factual errors in the post -- none of which were corrected. Since then I tend not to trust anything from that site -- though it has a habit of getting attention for similarly ridiculous "estimates," and people repeat them as if they were factual.

Allison K was the first of a whole bunch of you to send in the fact that the site is trying to "estimate" the "impact of piracy" of iPhone apps on Apple and app developers. While I commend the site on at least explaining its methodology, the more you read it, the more ridiculous it becomes. They simply layer questionable assumption upon questionable assumption upon questionable assumption, and when they get stuck, they pull out a random number. It's almost comical to read. As Allison noted, it reminds her of xkcd's famous comic of the Drake Equation, where one of the variables in the formula is defined as "Amount of bullshit you're willing to buy from Frank Drake":
It's nice to have some sort of concrete numbers, because people like to have numbers to discuss. But when they're based on so many layers of questionable assumptions, they tend to do a lot more harm than good. People will assume there's some real basis for them when there is not.

And, of course, as everyone should understand by now there's no such thing as "losses" from unauthorized access. There is only a failure on the part of the company to convince people to buy. There is no line in their financial reports on "losses" from such activities -- with good reason. The only issue is a business model issue, which is that the company has not given users a good enough reason to buy, so they chose to get the product elsewhere.

Update: And it gets more ridiculous. 24/7's response was a comment below that did not address any of the concerns but simply says that I must not have made it through my high school math class. Classy. Meanwhile, Dark Helmet points us to TUAW's takedown of the numbers, where they note that based on the assumptions, 24/7 appears to be assuming that there are 510 pirated apps per device. Uh. Yeah. Check those assumptions, folks.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:07pm

    Despite this fact, Apple has been mute on the subject and done nothing to prevent acts of piracy, which is not unlike the stance it has taken on illegal music downloads to iPods.

    What?

     

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  2.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Well, at least they didn't give the article some ridiculously overstated headline like "Apple App Store Has Lost $450 Million To Piracy" ... oh, wait.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:23pm

    Re:

    Yeah, that whole paragraph is pretty weird, especially the kicker line for the article:

    Apple intends to ignore the piracy of applications and will focus on the tens of billions of dollars that it makes on its hardware.

    From these two lines alone I really wonder if they have anything beyond a cursory understanding of the issues. This reads like an answer on a high-school exam, not a real analysis.

     

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  4.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:37pm

    Answer: Almost as many as you can pile up to show that all the piracy in the world has no negative effect on sales of digital material. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    You know, when I drive to work, pretty much everyone speeds. If every single one of them got a ticket, my state would be make $450,000,000 a day. That's like $935,390,000,000,000,000 a year. Budget gap solved!

     

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  6.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:45pm

    Re:

    ...and on day 2, nobody would speed anymore. Speeding happens because most people never get caught.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Re:

    And copyright infringement happens because culture is free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Re:

    Speeding happens because it's faster than not speeding.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Why are cars able to go faster than the speed limit? Why is culture so easy to replicate?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:55pm

    Re:

    Except, it's easy to prove *some* if not *most* of the downloads would never have been a sale in the first place, making the contrary argument entirely inadmissible in a serious discussion.

     

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  11.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 4:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think answering yourself is sort of scary, in a rubber room sort of a way.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    lux (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:03pm

    1 illegal download != 1 lost sale

    I can guarantee with 100% I wouldn't have bought any of the software I've obtained from free torrents. How do I know this? Because I haven't bought the software. End of story. Get over it.

    Microsoft knows this and would rather you use their pirated software than use another companies. BECAUSE IT'S ALL ABOUT POTENTIAL SALES.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Why do you always assume that Anonymous Coward posts are the same person?

    Did you think that when you were posting as an Anonymous Coward?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    TDR, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And continual, mindless disagreement without thought is equally as scary. And just as pathetic. Better get yourself a rubber room as well, TAM.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah! What this guy said!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Re:

    Actually, it happens because no one respects the laws involved. Sound familiar?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymoose, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:15pm

    People are failing to see the bright side...

    In a recession year, consumers may have SAVED over $450 million dollars thanks to iTunes piracy!

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:30pm

    Would any IPHONE user be dumb enough to download a pirated app for his phone? Downloading a pirated MP3 or bootleg movie online to your computer hard drive probably won't cause any lasting damage to your PC, and if there is damage, it can usually be fixed.

    If you download a pirated app that bricks your IPHONE and you can't undo the mistake, you're screwed, and you're still obligated to pay for the time left on your mobile contract, even after you've irrevocably fucked up your phone. For this reason, I think the potential for piracy and financial harm to Apple and the app creators is highly overstated, and the author of this article greatly underestimates the intelligence, income and age of the typical IPHONE owner. Pirating crap is cool when you're fifteen, even when you're twenty, but then you reach an age where it's easier just to pay for what you want.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonomous Cow, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 5:34pm

    Re:

    Wow, the state in which you live lost $935,390,000,000,000,000 ...
    That is staggering
    Will someone lose their job over this?

     

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  21.  
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    telnetdoogie (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 7:16pm

    Damn it!

    Damn it! I've been jailbroken this whole time and I didn't know I could download TomTom for FREE! Thanks 247wallst.com!

    ...Seriously. I've been jailbroken almost the entire time I've had my iPhone and so far I've spent more on jailbroken apps (PDANet, YouTube movie downloader) than I've spent on Apple Store Apps (...er... FlightTrack and... Ocarina...is that it? Oh no... Spacemonkey too. Yay Spacemonkey) ...and other craptastic apps that were fun for all of four days.

    So the only reason Apple 'lost' money from ME is because they limit app developers too much and the 'rogue' developers were able to provide what I wanted via other means. "Missed revenue opportunity" is what I'd prefer to call it.

    ...TomTom on piratebay? Really? Yoink.

     

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  22.  
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    justok (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 7:49pm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 8:49pm

    Re:

    Except it is not all about getting stuff for free. When the 1st gen iPhone and the iPhone 3g were released there was NO app in Apples app store that could shoot video, yet you could pirate one. This is what Mike talks about when he says that it is a failure of a company to provide what the market wants.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    taoareyou, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 9:00pm

    Re: Re:

    Speeding happens because laws are made that define speed limits.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Mike, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 9:13pm

    Class action

    There is no line in their financial reports on "losses" from such activities

    This suggests a class action by shareholders of publicly traded companies. The record companies are claiming loss from piracy. Theft losses are deductible, to an extent, on income tax returns. Thus, if record companies are NOT claiming loss from piracy on their income tax returns, and those losses are real, then they're paying more taxes than they should. This diminishes the value of the company, damaging the shareholders' interests. That's a valid cause of action. Q.E.D.

    I'd be interested to see the I.R.S.'s response to a claim of billions/trillions/grillions lost. Or, the more likely outcome, an admission in the class action by the defendants that the "losses" are fictitious and have no basis in GAAP or law.

     

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  26.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 13th, 2010 @ 10:42pm

    Re: Class action

    Lost sales aren't "losses" in a way that can be applied to the balance sheet of a company. It isn't any different from a snow storm that closes a restaurant for the day. There are lost sales, but you cannot claim that missing income as "losses" for tax purposes.

    It's fun to watch people trying to come up with the silliest ways to justify continued piracy.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 11:28pm

    Re: Re: Class action

    I know, right? I mean, you don't even have to justify piracy. It's that fun. It's also an act of civil disobedience because, hey man, culture is free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2010 @ 11:48pm

    Re:

    Answers to questions no one ever asked.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 12:16am

    Re: Re:

    ...and on day 2, nobody would speed anymore. Speeding happens because most people never get caught.

    No, on day 2 the head of the official responsible would be impaled on a post outside city hall.

    Speed limits, like copyright, are tolerated by the public because they are not rigorously enforced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 12:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Class action

    Does mom know you are up this late on a school night?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 12:20am

    Re:

    I can guarantee with 100% I wouldn't have bought any of the software I've obtained from free torrents. How do I know this? Because I haven't bought the software. End of story. Get over it.


    LOL

    You're an idiot.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 12:24am

    Re: Re: Class action

    It isn't any different from a snow storm that closes a restaurant for the day. There are lost sales, but you cannot claim that missing income as "losses" for tax purposes.

    Exactly right.

    and just like the snowstorm it's just something you have to learn to live with.

    It's fun to watch people trying to come up with the silliest ways to justify continued piracy.

    It's fun to watch people who think that snowstorms have to be justified.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 12:25am

    It's also an act of civil disobedience because, hey man, culture is free.


    Wait, I thought "wants-to-be-free" idiots like you were a myth?

    Please verify whether or not you're actually a myth so we can finally and conclusively settle this matter.

    Thanks!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 1:15am

    Re:

    It doesn't want to be free. Culture is free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 1:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Class action

    You sound like a broken recording industry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    douglas mcintyre, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 1:28am

    App Sotre

    You clearly did not make it out of high school math class

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re:

    He put it badly, but it's a point.

    Many years ago, when I was first trying to learn basic web design, I got hold of pirated copies of Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Should I have done this? No. But, Adobe (and Macromedia, at the time) lost exactly $0. The reason is that those programs were far too expensive for me to be able to afford at full retail price ($400+ IIRC). If the pirated version were not available, there would not have been any income suddenly appearing in those companies' bank accounts.

    Now, if I had gotten into web design properly and perhaps made a career out of it, I would absolutely have bought copies of those programs. So, no losses for those pirated apps but a potential comeback if they proved valuable enough for me to spend the high cost.

    Same with these iPhone apps. Very few people are going to spend the full retail price on, say, the TomTom apps. They're extremely expensive, and you can buy the standalone GPS units for close to the same price. Most of the people downloading them illegally would not pay for them if the download were not available. Therefore, it's foolish to say that these represent lost sales, and equally foolish to extrapolate financial losses from sales that simple would not have happened.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Joe Dirt, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 5:05am

    Re: Re: Class action

    You can, however claim those 'lost' sales on your business insurance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 5:07am

    Re: App Sotre

    You clearly did not make it out of high school math class

    Hey, everyone, it's someone from 24/7 Wall St. who rather than defend his post came here to blindly insult me.

    Now that's convincing.

    Do you have something to defend your post that goes beyond a ridiculous insult? You're not doing yourself any favors in posting that comment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    anon horse, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 5:18am

    Re: Re:

    If tomorrow everyone obeyed the speed limits, the government would have to lower them in order to not go over budget

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 7:25am

    Re: Re: Class action

    Quick, SNOW, that evil satanic immoral pirate particle, must be made ILLEGAL!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 8:41am

    The article was authored by W. Mcintyre, maybe Douglas was just sticking up for a relative of some sort....though it makes the site even less credible for the editor to (with nothing of substance) defend clearly wrong numbers.

    TUAW definitely gives the article a much needed throttling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Ballmer Suck Ass, Jan 14th, 2010 @ 10:08am

    Hell just froze over

    Weird.

    TAM lecturing someone on the "scary" aspect of their posts.

    TAM, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friends and wipe them on the back of the couch.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 10:16am

    Re: Hell just froze over

    yes, you *can*.

    its just frowned upon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Jan 14th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Class action

    I see what you did there ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2010 @ 1:37am

    Laughable

    There's a good dissection of the numbers here by a Brit games writer:

    http://wosblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/the-most-spurious-piracy-figures-ever/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    B, Jan 17th, 2010 @ 10:44pm

    Masnick's Bad Logic

    Hey, I think it's reasonable to point out bad math when it comes to estimating damages to piracy, but Mike Masnick doesn't do logic any favors with this quote: "There is only a failure on the part of the company to convince people to buy... The only issue is a business model issue, which is that the company has not given users a good enough reason to buy, so they chose to get the product elsewhere."

    Er - what? Don't fight stupid with stupid, Mike. If that argument was valid, then I could repeat the same statement about shoplifting - "Shoplifting happens because there is a failure on the part of the company to convince people to buy." See, I just shifted the blame from shoplifters onto the stores! Isn't bad logic fun?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2010 @ 9:04pm

    Re: Masnick's Bad Logic

    Does the analogy make more sense if you consider the differences between physical and digital goods?

    Is the store to blame if potential customers would rather go get their products for free from another vendor?

    Remember that we aren't discussing the morality of piracy or support of the product developers here-- just the fact that users with a specific skill set (googling piracy sites they read about on wall st 247) and tolerance for risk (legal/technical) are choosing to get apps from the "free" vendor.

    You can play games with the legal and technical (bricking/banning/etc) risks to dissuade people with a specific risk tolerance from grabbing the free version of your app or you can offer some sort of value to your customers that cannot be provided by the shady "free" vendors. This additional value takes many forms; multiplayer matchmaking, access to portions of your app protected by advanced (time/$$) piracy countermeasures, tech support or community membership.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    B, Jan 18th, 2010 @ 10:09pm

    Re: Re: Masnick's Bad Logic

    "Does the analogy make more sense if you consider the differences between physical and digital goods?"

    I'm saying that once someone has a pirated copy, there's not much incentive to *buy* a copy. At that point, you're expecting the pirate to just give away their money for no benefit. Yes, there are some ways to make software more valuable for buyers than pirates (depending on the type of software), though that's not true for other digital media like music or movies.

    You could also repeat Masnick's argument for physical goods by saying that stores who have their physical products stolen means a "failure on the part of the company to convince people to buy." Of course, that doesn't work so well for most products. But, that's blaming the store when their products shoplifted because "they should've provided free tech support with that computer, and then people would have an incentive to buy instead of steal the computer". That logic is just messed up. Masnick is clearly trying to remove all moral judgments of pirates, and treat piracy as morally equivalent to a purchase. Based on other articles he's written, I'm not that surprised - he obviously scoffs at the very idea of intellectual property; everything should be free, apparently.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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