The mobile application (or ‘app’, as it’s more commonly known) has been around for a little less than a decade, and yet like the Internet or email, it’s genuinely difficult to look back and imagine life without it.

The mobile app as we know it was first introduced in 2008, and it didn’t take long before it became a big hit with businesses and consumers due to their effectiveness and simplicity. Its popularity has only continued to increase as time goes on: in 2015, mobile phone users spent 90% of their time within apps on their device, as opposed to the 10% who opted for their browser instead.

With consumers using apps to shop for clothes, play games, message their friends and more — often all at the same time — businesses are finding them increasingly useful tools for interacting and engaging with their customers. A well-designed branded app can be a really effective way of building and maintaining customer loyalty, as well as increasing brand visibility and recognition (once a user has downloaded the app, they’ll notice it every time they scroll through their phone).

As the popularity of apps has increased, it has also become easier for even the not so technically savvy to develop them. This has enabled a flurry of creativity from developers all over the world, but it’s also enabled cybercriminals to create an increasing number of fraudulent imitation apps that appear on various app stores, hoping to deceive customers into purchasing fake goods and services.

Online app abuse is already rife, and has been for some years. Take the 2014 game Flappy Bird¸ a free gaming app created by developer Dong Nguyen. It quickly became a global phenomenon, with more than 50 million downloads in total, but it wasn’t long before Nguyen decided to suddenly remove the app from all virtual app stores. Despite this, users were still able to find hundreds of counterfeit versions of the app available to download, many of which were malicious and contained harmful malware.

In order to maintain ownership and control over their own intellectual property, branded apps need to ensure that they have total visibility into the global mobile space. There are various ways that businesses can stay protected.

There are several forms of app abuse

Online app abuse tends to fall into three main categories. The first is trademark infringement, where the creators make a fake app that’s intended to impersonate a brand, or falsely claim association with a brand. The second is copyright infringement, which involves ‘copycat’ apps unlawfully using images and logos, and the third consists of those who set up various online personas with the intention of fraudulent activity, such as identity theft.

If brands fall prey to app abuse, their reputation can be damaged and overall revenue can be seriously impacted through consumer and marketplace confusion. To mitigate these risks, businesses must ensure they are familiar with all forms of app abuse in order to stay protected.

App abuse is only half the problem

Mobile app abuse is happening across multiple channels, and so any social media networks where the brand has a regular presence should also be constantly monitored for any signs or suspicions of counterfeit activity.

If any extra activity is identified, the brand must determine whether it’s the same culprit behind multiple attacks. It’s then the duty of the business to determine which attack should be dealt with first to minimise brand damage.

Pay attention to all global app marketplaces

It’s easy to have a blinkered view of app stores and think that there are only two or three in total, but in reality there are hundreds of app stores globally. Some of them remain extremely secure and vigilant towards counterfeit apps, but there are others — particularly those in emerging markets — where that isn’t the case.

With wildly varying levels of security and approval processes, it’s up to the brands to cast a watchful eye over these app stores, identify any cases of infringement and deal with them as soon as possible.

As smartphones and apps continue to grow in popularity, it becomes tougher for businesses to maintain the safety of their intellectual property online. However, ensuring that they’re knowledgeable of the various forms of online app abuse and the impact that can cause, businesses. 


By Charlie Abrahams, senior vice president at MarkMonitor

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