App Developer Hijacks Customer Twitter Accounts In An Attempt To Shame Pirates

from the and-here-comes-the-backlash dept

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for DRM in my heart, mostly because it makes me laugh. If you think about it, it's generally rather funny in its uselessness. Pirates don't care about it as they simply route around any DRM. Customers can certainly be annoyed, but they always end up with the same tools the pirates use to break the DRM on their purchased products. There's a question of legality in doing so, obviously, but generally nobody really seems to care all that much and software developers just end up in a DRM arms race against nobody, which is inherently funny. All the while, we get wonderful gems like Ubisoft's vuvuzela DRM, which was hysterical. Now, don't get me wrong, DRM sucks, but upon reading stories about its effects my range of emotions tends to be anywhere between annoyance and raucous laughter.

However, as content producers begin to wake up to the fail that is DRM, we've been discussing how using your fanbase and social constructs to shame pirates and reward customers is a better approach. And it is, but unlike DRM you better get it right, because if you screw it up the results are far beyond mild annoyance. Reader AdamR writes in about one such developer that screwed things up so badly that they ended up hijacking the Twitter accounts of some paying customers to post a “piracy confession” on their behalf.

If you search Twitter for the hashtag #softwarepirateconfession you'll find a stream of tweets stating, “How about we all stop using pirated iOS apps? I promise to stop. I really will. #softwarepirateconfession.” There are many dozens of these tweets in the past day alone, all identical. So what's happening? It turns out that Enfour, the maker of a variety of dictionary apps, is auto-posting tweets to users' accounts to shame them for being pirates. But the auto-tweeting seems to be affecting a huge portion of its paid user base, not just those who actually stole the apps.

How could this happen, you wonder? Well, funny story. One proposed explanation is that there's a common tool used by people who jailbreak their iPhones and still want apps from Apple's app store, called Installous, that Enfour's apps were detecting and then, upon using the app and gaining permission to access a user's Twitter account it posted the “apology”. However, others are saying that it's occurring on phones that are in fact not jailbroken. Either way, these are people that paid for the app, not pirates as their own hijacked Twitter accounts purport them to be. As one customer, Sean O'Brien, noted:

“Apparently, even though I paid nearly $25.00 for it, something in the code of this app identified me a owning a pirated copy. It then asked for access to my Twitter account through my iPhone. I gave it access because, it's the American Heritage Dictionary! If any app can be trusted with my Twitter account, it ought to be my expensive dictionary app. But no, it tweeted the following message:

“How about we all stop using pirated iOS apps? I promise to stop. I really will. #softwarepirateconfession”

As you can imagine, the paying customers are pissed. Enfour has since released an apologetic statement, first in Japanese (ostensibly folks trying to use their Enfour dictionaries to translate the apology were called pirates again), and then in English on Twitter. They also have rushed out an updated version of the app they claim fixes the “bug”, but the complaints are still coming in.

Here's a piece of advice for all you developers out there. Yes, social shaming can work far better than lawsuits and DRM, but you had damned well better get it right. Hijacking the Twitter feeds of your customers, or anyone actually, is taking things in the wrong direction.

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Companies: enfour, twitter

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Comments on “App Developer Hijacks Customer Twitter Accounts In An Attempt To Shame Pirates”

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48 Comments
Ihtdc says:

Re: Really?

A $25 dictionary app is worth it if it gives you access to a full, comprehensive dictionary without requiring wireless access, which is not always available. Obviously, Enfour’s dictionaries failed miserably in this regard.

A $25 dictionary app is also worth it if it gives a copyright date for its definitions. There are times you may need to show what someone actually meant by using an authoritative, contemporaneous dictionary. (Maybe you need to show what a word means in a contract, for example, or perhaps the meaning of a technical term has evolved since the manual you are using was written.) You can’t do that with an Internet dictionary, because anything in it could change without notice at any time, and the Wayback machine doesn’t catch everything. To put it more succinctly, the Internet destroys history.

The reason to let it access your Twitter account is that you shouldn’t. But the app apparently gave you no choice, did not explain why it was doing so, and shut down completely if you didn’t grant this access while it was misfiring.

So, yes, there is a market for a convenient, self-contained, authoritative dictionary at that price point, and perhaps even at higher price points. But not Enfour’s dictionaries.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But but but piracy!

Everyone should just accept that we had to do this to protect ourselves, so what if we labeled you a thief after you paid us we had to make sure to shame those naughty pirates!

I expect that the damage to their brand is going to be much worse than any “piracy” losses.

Grats Enfour for helping customers discover other dictionary apps!

Ihtdc says:

Re: But but but ... Piracy!

How can you blame them? If 90% of their software is pirated, they should just pull the trigger without checking to see whether your particular copy is legitimate, they will be right 9 times more often than they are wrong.

Think of how much THAT will contribute to their bottom line!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

weneedhelp (profile) says:

I pirated apps up until windows server2003

And If there is an app I want, but dont want to shell out hundreds of dollars to see how it works, or if it really fits my needs, Ill gladly do it again and no amount of shaming will stop me. Hell, ill admit it:

I WILL PIRATE YOUR APP IN A HEARTBEAT!!!

This is exactly why people no longer respect copyright.

An app that steals your Twit password, nice, I really want to do business with them. /s

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

http://www.tuaw.com/2012/11/16/enfour-shares-more-details-about-app-piracy/

“Unfortunately, says Enfour, some old code that shouldn’t have been run did get run, and that’s what caused the false positives to appear in the Twitter shaming.”

You’d think they’d do a little testing on this app before pushing it out to the public.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re:

Why?

Have you seen the DMCA notices that are sent out to stop piracy? They are obviously flawed and are still sent out, and if you can find the secret path to a counter notice they just doubledown and claim they really truly believe it… even if anyone else can see the problem. There is nothing you can do because the system is lopsided, and they can’t figure out why people are ignoring copyright more and more because the system is a joke.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ll try it for him:

This is totally blown out of proportion Mikey [even though he didn’t write the article]. This tiny bug only impacted a small portion of the legitimate users – 42% [totally made up stat, of course]. They ACCEPTED the app using their twitter account, so they have nothing to complain about.

This is totally worth it for the 15 or 20 pirates it has actually shamed. 92.4% [again, totally made up stat] of the shamed pirates immediately purchased the app. So this, once again, shows that you don’t know what you are talking about Mikey. Plus, the buggy code was planted by Google agents and you know it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re:

And from the corporate standpoint its wasted money.
The tech is just going to work exactly how we wanted it to, and these programmer types are just trying to fluff their checks out, because its what I (execudrone) would do.

We are the only way they can have access to this, so we don’t have to worry about getting a bad name. Just wait some other dictionary will get popular and end up being sued because someone has rights to half the words. Yeah that does sound stupid, but I give you rounded rectangles. Corporations enjoy burning away money destroying competition even if they are in the wrong, because they sue the smaller guy out of business and by the assets for a song.

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