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.