15
Sep
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A couple of days ago, we ran a story about a circulating rumor that Google had expressed strong concerns with the launch of an Acer phone powered by Chinese Internet firm Alibaba's Aliyun OS. As the post explained, Alibaba claimed that Google had warned Acer that releasing the CloudMobile A800 could result in the search giant "terminating its Android-related cooperation and other technology licensing with [Acer]." These rather strong words led to speculation over just what the issue could be with Aliyun, and whether Google had issued the warning at all. Google quickly confirmed its stance, indicating that Aliyun was an incompatible version of Android, and one that could "weaken the ecosystem."

Aliyun OS, for those wondering, is a Linux-based operating system built by Alibaba Group, China's largest Internet firm by transactions. While the OS doesn't use Dalvik, it is, for all intents and purposes, an Android clone. The OS is heavily focused on cloud storage, and at launch, Alibaba promised users 100GB of free storage space for media, files, and – of course – applications.

Anxious to find more information or some clue as to what spurred Google's alleged "concerns," I began digging. A reader commented on the original story that something seemed fishy about Aliyun's app store, which evidently launched earlier this year.

After doing just a bit of research, it would seem our reader had a point – Aliyun's app store appeared to be distributing Android apps scraped from the Play Store and other websites, not only downloadable to Aliyun devices as .apk files, but also provided by third parties not involved with the apps' or games' development. What's more, we've received independent confirmation from the original developers of some of these apps that they did not in fact give consent for their products to be distributed in Aliyun's app store.

In this post, we'll take a quick look at some of the evidence that Aliyun is illegally distributing apps, our confirmation from developers, and what this could mean for Android, Aliyun, and piracy in general.

The Clues

After digging around in Aliyun's app store for a bit, I tracked down several clues to just what is going on. The following is a brief rundown of the pile of evidence.

'Download to Computer'

The first clue was the set of buttons that appears in every app listing:

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The "download to computer" button, while sending up a red flag initially, isn't necessarily surprising on its own – after all, the standard licensing method for apps now functions in such a way as to allow the download of .apk files and simply check licensing with a server when the app runs. What's interesting here though is that in most cases, each app store requires its own type of verification. For example, while the Play Store handles licensing one way, Amazon's App Store offers different guidelines for developers submitting to the market. What this means is that .apk files submitted to Aliyun's store are, at least in some sense, tampered with to support the store's own licensing procedure (if there is one).

Whether this involves cracking the existing licensing method is as yet unknown, but it doesn't bode well when we know that many of the apps' original developers are not the ones submitting the apps to Aliyun's store. The first clue I noticed to suggest that the apps were submitted by third parties was the varying app names and "Developer" or "Provider" names for each app or game. The presence of root apps, particularly those used to install custom Android recoveries and ROMs also seemed suspect given Alibaba's "virtual machine" claim. The following are a few examples of suspect apps.

Google Apps

First up is Google apps. Soon after Google released its statement on the Acer/Aliyun issue, Andy Rubin posted to Google+ specifically calling out the OS' incompatibility issues and the presence of Google apps which he confirmed are pirated. Considering Google's stance on Aliyun, there's zero chance the giant would provide its apps or services, but take a look at what a search for "Google Inc." turns up:

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The list goes on to include Google Indoor Maps Tool, Finance, Pinyin input method, Voice Search, Maps, Earth, and just about everything else Google.

Temple Run

Next is Temple Run. The first clue here is that the app is listed as "Temple flee" in Aliyun's store. This, however, could be chalked up to translation. What can't be attributed to poor translation is the "Provider" name – Eloquent. Temple Run was originally created by Imangi Studios, and "Eloquent" is a Provider name that shows up time and time again in Aliyun's app store, along with a few others.

Next, the actual details of the app – Aliyun's listing was published August 8th, 2012, the date the Play Store's Temple Run was last updated. What's weird is that the version found here is 1.0.3, whereas Imangi's 8-28 release is version 1.0.7. Further, the app is 26368KB, which translates to roughly 25.75MB, 2.75MB heavier than Imangi's Play Store app.

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bqjHX unnamed (1)

Both listings contain the same promotional screenshots, but Aliyun's shots are extremely low res and – like with most of Aliyun's listings – distorted when viewed inline.

Granny Smith

Granny Smith, from the makers of Sprinkle, is a paid app in Google's Play Store, costing users $0.99. Its listing in Aliyun's store faces the same set of issues – this time, the Developer is listed as leiguang888 – a name that also shows up over and over, and probably doesn't translate to Mediocre (the original devs behind Granny Smith). The game was published to Aliyun September 11th under version 1.0.0, while its Play Store counterpart was updated to version 1.0.1 five days earlier on the 6th.

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ali play

Again, both stores share the same promotional screenshots.

ROM Toolbox Pro

ROM Toolbox Pro is an especially interesting case. Given Aliyun's limited ability to even deal with Android apks in the first place, it's surprising to see an app listed that aides in the altering of system files and firmware on Android devices. As Andy Rubin stated in a post to Google+, Aliyun is not even fully "successful" at being compatible with Android apps, let alone firmware.

Another interesting facet of this listing is that the Developer listing is almost right – it lists JRummy16, the Twitter handle for JRummy, the actual dev behind the app.  The version published at Aliyun is 5.0.5, published August 17th. ROM Toolbox Pro has been at version 5.2.7 in the Play Store since 9-2, and weighs 7.2MB, compared to Aliyun's version which is just over 4MB.

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ali play

Again, the screenshots are the same (Aliyun's low-res answer to the Play Store's original shot), though this time the Aliyun shots feature a nearly illegible watermark for a Chinese website.

Endomondo Pro

Endomondo Pro, likewise lists the familiar "Endomondo" as developer, yet version 8.2.0 was published to Aliyun September 3rd 2012. The Play Store's 8.2.0 was published August 27th. The file size is on target, but this time the app's screenshots were a giveaway.

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Despite the parity of version numbers between the two listings, Aliyun's listing still shows screenshots from Endomondo's old interface which was ditched back in July.

We can also see that watermark again, but this time it's legible – the watermark belongs to NDUOA, another Chinese app market that openly, freely distributes pirated .apk files for paid Android apps. This is bad.

The OTHER Pirate Site

Nduoa is "the other pirate site" mentioned in the title of this post. Nduoa is an "alternative" Android market mainly localized for Chinese users. The site appears to be based in Shanghai and is owned by the elusive Ndoo Inc., providing thousands of free .apks (many of which would otherwise be paid) for direct download. The site even features a version of Google's Play Store cleverly named "G O O G L E Play."

While one would need to have a working Chinese SIM to register for Aliyun's store, absolutely no registration is needed for Nduoa.

Of course Nduoa is far from being the only international site offering free downloads of pirated apps, but it would appear that a large number of the otherwise paid apps available from Aliyun's store were yanked directly from Nduoa for the benefit of those set to use Alibaba's new Android clone.

The Confirmation

The first - and perhaps most important - confirmation available was found in Andy Rubin's post to Google+ I mentioned earlier, which plainly stated that Aliyun facilitated piracy:

However, the fact is, Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework, and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps). So there's really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform and takes advantage of all the hard work that's gone into that platform by the OHA.

Aliyun's app store featuring pirated Google apps is, as one commenter put it, "really awkward," but in investigating this issue I wanted to confirm the suspicion that Google apps weren't the only ones illegally listed in the Android clone's web front.

To that end, we asked a number of developers if they or their teams had given any form of consent for their paid apps to be distributed there.

The response we've gotten so far confirms that Aliyun is distributing pirated apps, more importantly without developer permission. A member of Mediocre, the development team behind hit games like Granny Smith and Sprinkle, had this to say:

This is the first time I've ever heard of Aliyun, so the answer no we had no idea that our games were available there.

JRummy, the developer behind ROM Toolbox, also confirmed that his app was being distributed illegally through Aliyun, adding some insight about the impact of piracy on Android's overall ecosystem:

Warez sites, like Aliyun, only hurt consumers and developers. We all know developers take a hit to their wallets but the impact we so often neglect is how piracy effects innovation. When we stop supporting developers then developers stop supporting their software.

We are still waiting on confirmation from a handful of other developers, but this essentially closes the case on whether or not Aliyun is distributing apps illegally.

The Implications

The implications of Aliyun's app store providing what are – essentially – pirated apps are pretty big. To start with, we know that Chinese piracy accounts for a rather considerable chunk of the Android piracy pie – China is home to about 170 million Android users. Why is piracy such an issue in China? It's likely due to the fact that Google is yet to get paid apps to China in the Play Store. Whether this is due to legal issues (probably), or some other factor is unknown right now. That being said, part of the problem can also be attributed to the development and distribution of Android splinters or incompatible clones like Aliyun, which have no access to the Play Store in the first place. Either way, in this writer's opinion, the lack of an ability to pay for something does not validate the illegal distribution of that thing.

Next, Aliyun's app store is, as the name implies, the app store for an entire emerging OS in China, one that is essentially a "fake" version of Android. The presence and distribution of pirated apps through the store not only makes Alibaba Group complicit to app piracy, but extends the complicity to any company who chooses to partner with the firm in bringing Aliyun OS to mobile devices and by extension to the hands of customers.

In essence, the presence or emergence of an OS like Aliyun which relies on an app store filled with piracy hurts all involved with Android – first, it undermines the meaning behind the Open Handset Alliance itself. If Aliyun were to be successful, it would put off developers who find that their hard work is being carelessly distributed for free internationally. Once that happens, end users can suffer from a lack of quality apps, a poor development ecosystem, and general dissatisfaction.

Though Google's statement on the recent Acer/Aliyun debacle went directly for the (extremely valid) "incompatibility" argument, the evidence presented here may compel one to think that there might have been a second reason behind Google's strong response, which itself was an almost unprecedented reaction from the Mountain View giant regarding the Open Handset Alliance and the protection of Android's ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

So what happens now? First, it's important to recognize that totally stomping out app piracy is a pipe dream. Jelly Bean saw the introduction of device-specific app encryption in an effort to slow piracy, but the latest available distribution numbers show that just 1.2% of Android devices (approximately 4.8 million devices) are running Jelly Bean so far. Further, existing licensing methods can be broken.

As Eric explained in his analysis of the Android piracy problem, when and if Google manages to open up paid apps to China, it will still have piracy issues to face. It is unlikely that existing piracy sites and markets like Nduoa and Aliyun's app store will simply zap out of existence, and there will still be Android forks floating around with users that are willing to get a hold of Play Store apps however they can.

The overall point here is that, despite the probable persistence of piracy, Google's response to Acer's proposed union with Aliyun is completely understandable – while Google may not be able to quash piracy once and for all, it recognizes that turning a blind eye while an Open Handset Alliance member releases a platform that copies Android and steals from its app and developer ecosystem is not a good starting place.

Liam Spradlin
Liam loves Android, design, user experience, and travel. He doesn't love ill-proportioned letter forms, advertisements made entirely of stock photography, and writing biographical snippets.

  • http://www.kovdev.com/ koveleski

    Fantastic article giving us more insight into the situation. Thanks for writing this up.

  • Flpt

    Well... there is blackmarket and aptoid that have pirated software also...

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      The key difference here is that Aliyun's app store is directly espoused by Aliyun OS, which Acer planned (plans?) to release on phones despite their OHA commitments.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1745689461 Hal Motley

      This is a much bigger scale than that though because Blackmarket, Aptoid and Snappzmart are only hosting pirated apps. This is a huge corperation (Alibaba) who are a Chinese equivalent of Amazon and are making their own OS (which isn't even a true Androd distro from what I am reading) and are hosting pirated Google Play apps and games.

      • http://twitter.com/telerim Telerim

        They're one of China's largest software and web services companies (US $2.8 billion in income in 2011) and are closely backed by the Chinese regime. As Hal says, this is no mere piracy - its piracy with the backing of one of China's largest corporate giants and the Chinese regime!

  • denbo68

    Why didn't Google just SAY it was because of pirated apps? A number of critics (it isn't just me) who took Rubin's statement at face value thought this smacked of hardline tactics. Had they stated they were protecting the interests of the app developers most people would have been extremely supportive.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I'm sure it's not just the pirated apps, it's not that at all, but I'm also sure that didn't help Alibaba's case.

      • denbo68

        But it seems to be the strongest argument. Google now looks like a bully for going after Acer (and not OHA member Haier). I doubt Forbes would have written this had Google stated pirated apps as one of their reasons. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerkay/2012/09/14/google-cant-have-it-both-ways/

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

          I can imagine Google didn't want to just come right out and say "Look, these guys are dirty, dirty thieves." That's not a good way to deal with potential business partners. They may have problems with Aliyun as is, but if Alibaba and Google could work out their differences, and Aliyun could be made more compatible with Android proper, then Google could have a valuable business partner. That's hard to do if Goog's spent its time trashing them to the press. Also, while Google definitely has a lot riding on the app ecosystem, the problems of forking Android in extremely incompatible ways is a much more pressing problem to Google. Pirated apps will always exist in any market (especially China), but multiple incompatible versions of Android don't have to. In the desktop world, we have things like Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and about a billion other distributions, not all of which are compatible with each other. This is what Google wants to avoid. Sure, there's a "fragmentation" problem with not every Android device being perfectly up to date, but take any two ICS Android devices, even Amazon ones, and they'll be able to run the same apps. If versions of Android start popping up where that's not the case, it could be an even bigger problem.

          All of that being said, even if they have reasons to be more concerned with compatibility than pirated apps, and even if they don't want to insult a potential business partner too much, Google actually did come right out and say that pirated apps were a major concern. Andy Rubin specifically said this on Google+ here: https://plus.google.com/112599748506977857728/posts/hRcCi5xgayg

          The fact that Forbes wrote a scathing piece without understanding all the details is not Google's fault, it's Forbes. It might not be great for Google to have people misunderstanding the situation, but the fact is other people jumped to conclusions and hurried to write editorials trashing Google for it. That says far more about how Forbes operates than about Google's intentions. For example, Liam had been researching this piece since the news first broke about Aliyun. We waited to get all the relevant information together before posting. Something tells me there will always be a Forbes that's willing to jump the gun because of snap judgments no matter how Google handles the PR.

          • PhilNelwyn

            Amen...

          • Himmat Singh

            Honestly, I don't all this incompatible talk.

            "...but multiple incompatible versions of Android don't have to".

            If Aliyun can run Android APKs seemingly as they are, then how is Aliyun an incompatible version of Android? Surely, only compatible versions of Androids can natively run Android APK files right?

          • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

            That's the thing - Aliyun can't. Andy Rubin said as much in his post yesterday. When it -does- run Android apks, it's through a "virtual machine."

          • Himmat Singh

            If that's the case, then Aliyun really isn't Android (their VP said as much, and ALiyun has never been marketed to run ON Android) - the fact that it can run APKs virtually is a bonus. What if Microsoft decides to allow Android apps to run via a VM - will Google take issue to it as well if say Asus manufacturers such a tablet?

          • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

            The difference is that Aliyun is an Android clone, but it has some fatal tweaks that keep it from being fully compatible. There's no comparison between this situation and the hypothetical one where Microsoft runs Android apps. Another difference is that Microsoft isn't running a store filled with pirated Android apps.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

            Making a broken version of Android doesn't make it not-Android. And any case, that's not the problem. Acer is a member of the Open Handset Alliance. As part of that pledge, they've agreed not to encourage multiple different versions of Android that are incompatible with each other. So, no, Google wouldn't take issue with Microsoft doing this because Microsoft is not an OHA partner.

            As for whether or not it's compatible, the issue here is that this Android spin-off is compatible, but not fully. The OS is built on Android, but changes things in a way that would cause problems for app developers. This is not, in itself, a problem. Understand, Google isn't going after Aliyun. Alibaba is more than welcome to do whatever it wishes with Android. If it wants to make a partially-working, partially-broken version of Android with an appstore full of pirated apps, it is free to do so. What Google is taking issue with here is that Acer has pledged, as part of the OHA, to promote a consistent Android platform, yet wants to distribute devices that do the exact opposite of that. And not only to distribute insufficiently-compatible versions of Android, but to do so with an appstore that outright steals apps, including some of Google's own.

            Google isn't saying Alibaba can't do this. Google isn't suing Alibaba or trying to shut down the development of this OS variant. Amazon, for example, is not a member of the OHA and it is free to do with Android as it pleases. What Google is telling Acer is "look, you made a promise to work together on this, and now you're breaking that promise. Which is it gonna be? You gonna go with us, or the people who steal our apps and break our platform?"

          • ganapat

            I agree with ur point , if ACER is going to market the phone as an android device having Aliyun on it...But he is going to market it as Aliyun device..As long as he is selling Android phone with OHA comaptibility he is fine.. Aliyun is another OS (regardless of whatever it is ) and that their decision to go with it.. you can't go and say to ACER don't build any windows computer as your OHA partner..

          • Milton Yeung

            What about Foxconn, supposedly still a member of OHA, manufacturing Amazon's Kindle Fires? I can't use Android widgets and can only sideload Android apps unless I decide to root the whole thing. Or does the Fire still technically meet Google's compatibility requirements? If not, then this would be a case of selective enforcement by Google.

          • PhilNelwyn

            Supposedly...
            You'd better check next time.

            http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/oha_members.html

          • Milton Yeung

            So both Foxconn and Acer are listed as "Handset Manufacturers" at the OHA website, which still begs my question: why Acer but not Foxconn? One possibility is that preventing Android widgets from operating on Kindle Fire, and making it difficult to use Android apps (sideloading or rooting required) on the Fire still doesn't raise fragmentation/compatibility issues, but this doesn't make intuitive sense.

          • PhilNelwyn

            Whoops... looks like I'd better check twice next time. ^^

            Well, I see a clear difference: Acer would sell the device, Foxconn doesn't sell the Kindle.
            Would you consider the iPhone a Foxconn device?
            But that raises another question then: what other Foxconn activity is done "under OHA terms?" Do they sell their own devices or something?

    • ari_free

      Because if they said it was piracy, Acer would be completely destroyed.

    • Mat_t

      because it's NOT about the pirated apps?

      done in one sentence.

      longer version: it's about one specific thing, which they said, and rang true. You can either: run your own version of android, or run the official version - but you cannot run your own and claim it is compatible if it isn't. That's what aliyun did, and google said they would pull support if they did so.

      This is just showing how bad they are, and every news site who happened to believe an alleged statement is a shoddy news site as usual.

  • József Király

    Chinese manufacturers never change. They are protected by the government, and international corporations can't really do anything apart from spending a lot of money to actually get to the court, and in most of the cases, the other half won't even show up.

    Same is the problem with the actual Android device releasers. Most of them does not give a crap about licensing, just makes a half-ass Android port (and yes, there are still devices released with GINGERBREAD), what barely, but works, then the buyer can go anywhere with their problems, they won't reply.

    Oh and did I mention, they usually won't even release proper sources for the kernel, or other GPL covered contents! A great example is Urbetter: we've been fighting them for the source codes for years, not just the kernel, but their modified u-boot bootloader too.
    Or, Rockchip: Google gave them the permission to use their services and applications on the RK3066 platform (they passed the CTS test), yet they refuse to release the kernel source code. Problem is, that while Rockchip makes the SoC, and the boards, the final device is often made by another manufacturer, then another one buys the OEM devices and rebrands them, and so on. So it's impossible to track them down.
    With my example: RockChip makes the RK3066 SoC, the board, basically every electronics. Then another manufacturer (in this case, the Cube corporation, http://51cube.net/) puts the whole tablet together, with the screen, chassis, etc., boxes, and sells them. I got my tablet for development from Cube, and of course I asked them about the kernel sources. They told me they do not do any development, and for every request, I should go to Rockchip. They did not say too much, but at least replied fast, and were kind in response. So, I wrote to RockChip, on their tech support line. Got an answer, two weeks after sending my message, that they are only releasing documentations and sources to partners. And guess who're the partners? Of course the companies who order 1000's of boards. So no luck with them, can't enforce GPL in any way, and this is sad.

    This Alibaba stuff also smells. Different package size, manipulative uploads, etcetera. Seems to be another way of the Chinese Great Firewall, watching people, listening to everyone, storing every info. And of course, Google knew about these risks, probably this is the reason they did not let Acer get involved with this "new OS".
    Actually, I'm yet to find a chinese device, what has no built-in tapping code. ZTE released the Blade with included code what can be easily used for surveillance, even from the other half of the world, and kept these in the updates, till the last, 2.3 release. Huawei had the same in the early models, I'm not sure about the new ones. And I could go on and on about it.

    Of course, the application rip-off is outrageous. Chinese manufacturers are all ego when someone accidentally breaks their licensing, yet they won't keep themselves to it. A big company distributing warez actually causes more damage than torrent sites, or similar. Why? Because these corporations have agreements with the government. Meaning, they distribute the apps in China, only them (!!), and Google Play Store is blocked. Meaning, that even if the user wanted to buy it, he or she is FORCED to warez it. And the worst part is, that the developers can't do anything. Sure, they can implement a license checking method apart from Google's, but it would be simply a PITA, not to mention the users' discomfort.

    Something has to be done, and it won't be easy, it will need the cooperation of all members who are damaged by this, including Google.

    • Mat_t

      if you believe the mindset that chinese manufacturers steal, then you are just as much a part of the "problem" as they are - in fact, responding in the same style as the MPAA/RIAA. Their culture simply doesn't hoard ideas and act as if they own them. As a result, they're more competitive and we tend to fall behind.

      Something does NOT have to be done. It will need people to reach out to the chinese manufacturers, and educate them in how google is happy to work with them - as long as they're willing to do so.

      At the end of the day, ignorance such as even labeling this as "chinese manufacturers" is just as much a contributor to the problem as the supposed thieves as well.

      • József Király

        My problem isn't the way they "steal" ideas, and I never said so. My problem is, with them, that they don't respect their own ideals! Like I said: most of the manufacturers take the GPL-covered Linux kernel, modify it for a given board, then only release the binary. Sometimes they release a few bits of source code, let's say, under Apache, but when a developer modifies the code, and releases something based on it, they demand the developer to release the code.

        A great example is the case with the RockChip-tools. They got leaked, got no restrictive license, but when a guy made some performance modifications, tools based on them, etc, RockChip was all crazy about the guy, threatening him with a lot of things. Also, here's the source code (he later released the code):
        http://gitorious.org/rockchip-android/tools

        Check the licensing in the headers of a few files!

        Basically my problem is, that they think they are over everything. If they break the license, it's not a problem, but if anyone else does, then... you can see.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        But the thing is, Google isn't happy to work with most of them.

        Far too many of these companies do things like turn a blind eye to piracy just to make a buck. I'm not saying their reasons for doing so aren't understandable, but Google isn't going to work with any company shipping devices with app stores that have pirated apps on them. And they have every reason not to.

        The real problem is what Jozsef has alluded to: the Chinese government. Want the Play Store in China? Can't have it, restrictions of internet content and speech. Want Google Search? Can't have it. Want Gmail? Can't have it. Maps? Nope. Unless you're selling hardware outside China, you simply can't ever get these things on your products legitimately.

        I feel bad for the plight of these manufacturers, because they'd so obviously be willing to get on board with the OHA if it would actually help them in some way. But the most key parts of building a good Android experience have nothing to do with the Android operating system. Google's services drive demand for Android far more than most people are willing to admit. Without those key Google products, the Play Store especially, these companies can't be competitive unless they resort to less savory means, like we're seeing here.

        Does it make what they're doing right? Absolutely not, and they deserve to be shunned for it.

        And so, Google is doing what it can: threatening to blackball legitimate Android partners who think about getting involved with these fly-by-night Chinese knockoffs. Google hopes that this will send the message to the Chinese government that it's been trying to push for years: if you don't open up, don't expect our cooperation.

  • tylerwatt12

    I wonder if Acer was aware of this. if so Google's action is completely legitimate. gapps aren't FOSS only AOSP is.

    • Mat_t

      basically, this issue was a whole lot of nothing, compacted by media not fact checking anything.

      If you read the initial sources you hear "Alleged comments" or "according to (company)"...yet the company was aliyun and not acer or google. So people immediately started off speculating from the get-go. Every site that reported the initial comments should now be shamed for the poor reporting that resulted in this mess. Not that all the sites aren't worth reading, but that all the sites did a horrible job at being news sites.

  • http://kennydude.me/ Joe Simpson

    It wouldn't be so bad if they just contributed their efforts to AOSP instead of breaking Android (their version at least) and didn't do this pirating shit.

  • Stephen Long

    How does their OS run all of these apps without Dalvik?

    • jbo1018

      I think that's kind of Google's whole point.

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      According to Andy Rubin, not well.

  • triangle8

    Nice article. Someone needs to translate it into Chinese so that people there understand the situation.

    • http://twitter.com/telerim Telerim

      Did you guys see the replies to Andy Rubin's first Google+ post on this topic? *Chinese* users are saying things like: "As a Chinese, I don't support Aliyun OS" "As a Chinese, I will never buy that Ali-s***", "aliyun is s***, as a chinese". Its hilarious - https://plus.google.com/112599748506977857728/posts/H7eC4uaJ12Q! I suspect that Aliyun OS was propped up by the Chinese regime to get back at Google, and allow for a censored version of Android in China.

  • mduran1023

    Great work Liam!

  • http://twitter.com/telerim Telerim

    Thanks for this fantastic article and great piece of work. FYI, Angry Birds Space is also pirated - http://apps.aliyun.com/detail.htm?id=22473&from_keyword=%B7%DF%C5%AD&from_page=1 . Same leiguang888, and same screenshots as Google Play.

    I've also written to The Verge and Ars Technica editors to let them know of this post - you do better investigative reporting than those guys!

  • Himmat Singh

    "Either way, in this writer's opinion, the lack of an ability to pay for something does not validate the illegal distribution of that thing."

    Come on, you can't speak on this matter, can you? It's easy for you to be in America and say that from your comfy couch...but if I were in China or anywhere else where paid apps were not legally available, I think distributing/using the apps would be all right. Just imagine if you were an Android enthusiast but in China and cannot legally pay for ANY app...then how>?

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      I can absolutely speak to this matter (as can anyone). Without restating myself verbatim, whether someone CAN pay for something has nothing to do with whether they should distribute/receive it for free.

    • ari_free

      People aren't entitled to get everything they want. If you can't get something by the rules then you try to get something else by the rules.

  • Göran Sävström

    And Acer said they wanted to continue down this particular road?
    - I'd say that Google's reaction wasn't that tough after all... If it were up to me I'd make sure Acer never made an Android device again... Ever!

  • http://pandu.poluan.info pepoluan

    You know, I strongly suspect Aliyun OS is just Android, but with additional code to steal data and/or perform remote invasive monitoring. They don't want to call it Android because they don't want to release the source code.

    Of course, my opinion is totally a hypothesis.

  • goldenscreen

    Found other rooted apps - Titanium Backup, Mobile Odin, SuperSU, Cerberus, Tasker. Oh my. And yeah all with watermarked screenshots leading NDUOA.

  • Billy_Joe_Bob

    NO MORE Acer products in my home!

    • ari_free

      The sad thing is that there are people who are now against Google because they didn't see this article. They think google is just upset that there's competition.

  • Atomic

    Why are the screenshots taken at the same time?

  • ProbablyDrew

    Thanks for investigating this matter. There have been a lot of stories framing this as "Google is being evil and trying to stomp out competing os'es just like Microsoft and Apple" but none of them bothered to mention:
    1. This is not independantly developed, it is all based on Android.
    2. They are distributing Google Apps and connecting to Google's services without a license
    3. They appear to be distributing Android OS open source code without any mention of the Apache license, which is required for derivative code (I can't find a mention of it searching the aliyunos website).
    4. They are distributing private developer's apps without permission and presumably without giving them a cut of the revenue.

  • Keshin

    Understandable? Aliyun can no more be held responsible for the pirated apps on their store than Google can on theirs. There are plenty of pirated applications on both stores, it's the nature of the self-publishing beast and honestly it's extremely hypocritical of Google to point out all the pirated applications on
    Aliyun while gleefully ignoring the fact that the Play store suffers from the same exact issue.

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      Can you provide some examples of pirated apps on the Play Store? I'm curious to see what you mean, because personally I've never encountered one.
      Also I think the difference here is that Aliyun is distributing pirated apps not just from independent developers but also apps that Google created (Maps, Voice Search, Translate, Earth, etc etc), essentially providing fake copies of Google services that Google would never agree to have connected to the Aliyun OS.

    • Pedro

      Take your pills 1st, and then try to retype your opinion. You'll see that you will make much more sense then :)

  • Bruno Pedro

    awesome article

  • Marc

    Under the moniker of 'Kandee', I found 2 Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and 2 Fruit Ninjas in their appstore. The latter even being the 'full version' (according to Google Translate, my Chinese isn't that good).
    See for yourself:
    http://apps.aliyun.com/search.htm?keyWord=kandee

  • kroms

    Yup ,like that's exactly what we need . A site that puts out Pirated Apps. I don't think so.

  • Brad Prichard

    Just a wonderful article. I live and work in China, and this is more or less typical business ethics, but the fact that this is the Alibaba Group makes it much more concerning. My company makes some iPhone apps, and we've more or less given up on making any money from the domestic market. Selling content for any platform here is a fool's errand, and considering how little the government cares to protect intellectual property, the situation won't be changing in the foreseeable future. Trying to have a conversation with the average pirate here is about the same as discussing Napster with a 14 year old back in the day. There is just no concept that people should pay for software (or music or books).

  • http://www.facebook.com/amos.batto Amos Becker Batto

    I find Google's stance on these issues to be morally bankrupt when it comes to intellectual property issues. Google takes source code for the Linux kernel and modifies it, but does very little work to try to incorporate its code changes back into the mainline kernel, so it causes fragmentation of the Linux kernel. Then, Google complains when others take their code and make modifications and cause fragmentation of Android.

    Sun (now Oracle) developed Java and have been trying to stop its fragmentation. Google created their own Java virtual machine and created an incompatible version of Java which fragments the Java developer community, then Google turns around and accuses a couple Chinese companies of fragmenting Android when they make incompatible versions of Android.

    Google takes GPL software from the community (Linux kernel, MySQL, etc) and heavily modifies it to run its server farms and search engine, but never releases its changes back to the community. Google uses GPL software to make billions of dollars from GPL, but then it spurns the ideals of the Free Software Foundation and encourages developers to not use GPL licences. In fact it deliberately undermines the mission of the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative by confusing the public about whether software is free (as in beer) or free (as in speech) in its Play Store, so that people don't know whether they are using free/open source software or not.

    Finally, Google wants the Chinese to pay for Android apps, but it doesn't offer the Play Store in China. Moreover, the terms of service for its Play Store makes it illegal for anyone else to copy apps from its Play Store to serve the Chinese market. The Chinese build most of the Android devices for the rest of the world, but Google doesn't give the Chinese a way to legally obtain most of the Android apps. Then Google complains when a Chinese company finds a way to give people the software illegally, because there is no other way to get it legally through Google. (Yes, I know that a Chinese company could contact thousands of app developers and set up an alternative play store, but many Western banks won't accept Chinese credit/debit cards and many Chinese don't even have credit/debit cards, which is probably why Google doesn't bother with the Chinese market.)

  • c933103

    China's situation:
    1.China government spy on gmail, so Google quit China. (As a side note, some said, NSA also spy on Google's service, then why don't google quit USA?)
    2.Because Google quited China, there're no google's verification center in China that's still operating, and thus manufacturer cannot get OHA's verification, which is the prerequisite of installing GMS onto phones, despite some of them are OHA member, and some of them ship phones with GMS outside China.
    3.Also, even if some pirated android tablet or some customers install GMS by themselves, because Google no longer operate inside China, their services frequently become inaccessible in China and cost devices a significant amount of battery to try to reconnect to Google's server
    4.And for paid apps, there's sth more. Few years ago, Google did attempted to accept payment from mainland China by cooperating with a local partner, but because they lack a certain license that's needed to receive online payment which Apple successfully obtained (probably because Google had ceased their operation in China), their local partner are forced to terminate the cooperation. And Google can't just accept Visa/Master card/paypal payment because they are not common in China which they have China Unionpay as an national variety to these.