amazon store jail

An interesting little tidbit came across to us in an otherwise ordinary posting on Amazon's app developers' blog. While developers will have the option to use DRM or not in their apps, those that do use the digital licensing service may present problems for those users who are temporarily without an internet connection.

Comparing it to the way Amazon currently handles the storing of Kindle books, the curious part of the post reads:

"Any app that has Amazon DRM applied to it will require users to have installed and signed-in to the Amazon Appstore client to access the app. When an app is accessed by the user, it will verify with the Amazon Appstore device service as to whether the user has an entitlement to the app. If the user does not sign in or does not have an entitlement to that app, then the app will not be usable. However, any user can gain an entitlement by purchasing the app through Amazon."

While the words "every time" are not specifically used, it seems to imply that a DRM check will be sent whenever you open an app. The question this raises is whether that check can be done from a locally stored license (after the first installation) or if it needs to contact Amazon's servers every time the app is opened (similar to a protected song on iTunes). Say you're taking a weekend trip, driving through the country (without a data connection), and your passenger wants to play Angry Birds which was purchased from Amazon. Will she be able to? Or will it fail with an authentication error?

amazon store jail

The answer to this question remains unclear, and we have attempted to contact Amazon's app developer wing via Twitter for a response.

While we understand the need to protect developers against piracy, Amazon will want to be very careful with the restrictions they put on their apps. If users sense a more restrictive experience than they get with Google's Market, this new vending rival could be dead in the water from the very beginning.

Update: In response to the concerns raised here, Amazon posted the following clarifications, which definitely tone down their previous language quite a bit:

"In response to your questions, we’d like to take this opportunity to provide a few clarifications.

Do I have to use Amazon DRM if I sell my app through Amazon.com?

No, it is not required. When you submit your app you can choose to offer your app DRM free or you can apply Amazon DRM.

Do customers need to have internet access to use an Amazon DRM-enabled app?

No. Once an app is installed, a user can use the app without having internet access.

How can you verify that the user has an entitlement to the app without internet access?

During the installation process for an app, the Amazon Appstore client downloads a small token that grants the user the right to access the application. A valid token permits the user that purchased the app to access their app offline. The Amazon Appstore client will periodically communicate with Amazon servers to refresh the token."

Source: Amazon App Store Developers' Blog

Will Shanklin
Will's typical, run-of-the-mill story is that of 'classically-trained actor turned Android smartphone and tablet writer.' If you catch him quoting Shakespeare, it's not because he misses it, but because he desperately wants his Masters in drama to count towards something.

Sir William dwelleth in the fair haven
Chicago; with his fair maid'n Jess and his
trusty cur, Ziggy.
  • wirbly

    There is currently an "Apply Amazon DRM" checkbox when you upload an apk, so it appears you can opt out. I don't get the impression that this is going to change. Or did I miss something?

  • http://www.pretentiousname.com Leo Davidson

    If the online check is done every time I imagine it would slow down app launches as well.

    That seems unacceptable even when cheap, reliable data connection (which, let's face it, is far from all the time with a phone).

    Hopefully this isn't what they are planning. If it is, hopefully nothing I want will be exclusive to that store.

    • ZZ

      Couldn't they have implemented it by having the Amazon app Store client app start a background service which talks to/authenticates Amazon apps once it's been logged in (hence the requirement for it)? If this was the case it wouldn't have to login online each time, but just the once.

      • http://www.pretentiousname.com Leo Davidson

        That sounds great until you have to reboot the phone while abroad... (e.g. because you run out of battery before you can get to a charger.)

        DRM that requires you to have a working network connection is annoying enough on desktop computers. It's a dealbreaker for phone software (unless it's an app that is inherently useless without the network anyway).

  • http://www.slipshft.com Slipshft

    They have the best intentions I am sure, but that can lead to bad execution of the intention. Just have to sit back and wait for the update on what it really means.

  • http://androidinfiltration.com newtron

    I would hope it is an initial launch situation. Seems to me the everytime might be reading too much in to their post...I hope...

  • emilyb

    This is totally untrue, Android Police needs to check your sources. The information is right in their FAQ:

    Can I apply DRM to my app?
    For each app that you submit to the Appstore, you can choose to apply DRM or make your app available without any rights management constraints. If you do choose to apply DRM to one of your apps, you must use the DRM system provided by Amazon through the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal.

    • Will Shanklin

      Thanks for the tip - we did miss that part. Apologies. However, the main concern of the post is still relevant: whether a data connection is required for those apps that do incorporate DRM.

  • http://www.webspiders.com Asheley Forrester

    A good read. This bit of information will definitely help Smart phone users (Android) to make decisions.

  • klon

    It could function like the Spotify mobile app, which requires the user to sign in once every 2 weeks or so.

    So essentially anytime you are on wifi or have a signal over that 2 week period your license is renewed.

  • Someone

    It seems that it's roughly similar to the Licence check offered by Google.

    • James

      The one by Google doesn't require you always to have internet access though.

  • Todd

    Warning: Amazon App Store requires at least a daily connection in order to use apps purchased from it. I was overseas and didn't have daily access to to the internet. Every app I had downloaded from Amazon would force close and give me an error message. Amazon refunded my purchases when I complained about it, but made no apologies for their idiotic DRM system.

  • SSG

    As of December 2011, you must log in to Amazon to use any app. Admittedly, I had two free games, both force closed if I did not log onto Amazon before trying to play. I deleted them both and downloaded the ones I liked from the Market.

  • http://Amazon Vince

    I have the same problem with my apps from them.

  • keith

    I have this problem now on a galaxy nexus with jellybean 4.2 I can play angry birds I bought fine when logged into amazon app store. If I reboot my phone 5 minutes later and try to play, I am not allowed unless I reconnect. That makes all purchased amazon apps useless on an airplane. I will never buy from them again.

  • David Bump

    This is still an issue as of 2013. As reported by other users, if you complain, you'll get a refund, but no mention of a fix or any answers besides an apology.
    There is a separate bug related to Android 4.1 which hit a lot of Nexus 7 users, and which causes the Amazon appstore to log itself out regularly. Uninstalling/reinstalling the appstore seems to correct this behavior, but you're still subject to the token timeout if you don't have regular internet access.
    I've been travelling overseas for 6 months, and have never once had an issue with apps from Google's play store, but increasingly cannot use apps from Amazon's app store reliably, getting the stupid "you must be connected to the internet to use this app" error. I'm certainly not purchasing any more Amazon content until this is resolved, and even then, I'll be quite wary.

  • TP

    I only have a few apps I got through Amazon but they are all paid for versions of the apps, no free ones. Everytime I try to use one of the apps it requires a login to Amazon's app store. Every time! Use the app, 2 minutes later want to use it again and if you have logged out of Amazon's app store you have to sign in again. So you either login to Amazon's app store as a precedence to running any of the apps you got from Amazon or you login then run something like Tasker to fake app store activity, because it logs you out after a period of inactivity, and leave it running all the time. Neither of those options appealed to me and both require an internet connection to use an app that I have bought and paid for.

    They claim this is for DRM but they are actually spying on you by recording when and what apps you are using and the information they collect is tied to an account with your full purchasing information, address, phone, and if the app has location persmission your pinpointed location. This makes NSA's little spy program look like a neighbor kid peeping through a hole in the fence. Worse this intrusion of your privacy is part of apps you pay for not just the free versions

    I live in a rural area where many things are only available online and spend somewhere north of 20k a year on Amazon purchases but have decided to stop supporting them as long as they continue to violate my privacy. It's a drop in the bucket to them but the only way I have to right the wrong they are commiting. I can understand them doing a check when you purchase the app but after that what I do with the app, where I am when I am doing it and when I use it is none of their business. For all I know they are also searching my phone and tablet for other bits of information. I have talked to their customer service people by phone on about this and they assure me they are not spying but when you ask them specifically what information they are collecting they tell you they collect who, what and when but, "no one ever looks at it so it's not spying".

  • David

    As of July 2013 (from research and actual experience/testing, HP Slate 7, Android 4.1.1) an app with Amazon DRM needs to refresh the token once a month. Amazon is being deceptive when they say "a user can use the app without having internet access". Yes, until a month has gone by. Using the Amazon Appstore app with internet access is not enough, you must start each application while having internet access to refresh the token. Since it is a developer option to include Amazon DRM, and Amazon does not list that fact, it is a crap shoot whether your purchased or free apps will quit in a month. Adobe Reader, a free app, amazingly, includes Amazon DRM when downloaded from Amazon. Since I am often away from the internet, I can't say enough bad things about Amazon for this. Amazon was a handy place to get apps, but will be looking for other app stores or rooting my tablet.

  • Opinion99

    The update that says you no longer have to always be connected and login to Amazon's app store is incorrect. They still require it for the apps I have on my phone and the apps my daughter has on her tablet. They require it each time. This is for free apps, paid for apps or trial apps. I use to use Amazon for about 90% of my online buying but for apps have switched to Google Play because of Amazon's login requirement problems and am considering switching my other purchases also. They use the login as a way to collect your information including GPS location if you have that active on your tablet or phone. Basically they are spying on you each time you run an app from them. The NSA should take notes from them they could learn something