It’s not even been ten years since the mobile application (or ‘app’) as we know it came into existence, and yet it’s now hard to imagine a life without them. Their effectiveness and ease of use have been a hit with businesses and consumers alike, and popularity has continued to skyrocket. 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).

However, with it becoming easier than ever for the not so technically savvy to create mobile apps of their own, there’s been an increasing number of fraudulent imitations appearing on various virtual marketplaces that are in fact run by criminals, looking to deceive customers into purchasing fake goods.

You don’t have to look too far back to find examples of online app abuse. In 2014, the app Flappy Bird became a mobile gaming phenomenon, with well over 50 million downloads in total. The developer Dong Nguyen eventually removed the original app from all app stores, but there were still hundreds of clones available to download, and many of them were malicious and misappropriating copyrights and trademarks. Of the 300 clones tested, 80% of them contained malware.

As branded apps proliferate, brands need visibility into the global mobile space to maintain control over their intellectual property, and there are numerous ways that businesses can keep themselves protected.

App abuse comes in numerous forms

The vast majority of online app abuse falls into three different categories, all of which need to be monitored constantly. The first is trademark infringement, in which creators of fake apps impersonate leading brands, or unauthorised apps falsely claim association with brands. The second is copyright infringement, whereby ‘copycat’ apps misuse copyrighted images and logos.  The third form is those who set up many different online guises for fraudulent reasons, such as stealing personal credentials for future potential sales or identity theft.

App abuse can damage brand reputation and quickly impact revenue through confusing consumers and luring profits away from legitimate brand owners, and so it’s imperative that businesses familiarise themselves with both of these common forms if they’re to properly prevent infringement.

App abuse could only be part of the problem

Mobile app abuse is also a form of online brand infringement, and infringement of this kind can happen across multiple channels. It’s therefore essential that whenever mobile app abuse occurs, global brands are monitoring social media websites, online marketplaces and anywhere else where the brand has a regular online presence to see whether the abuse is more widespread than first thought.

If similar incidents are found elsewhere, you need to determine whether it’s the same bad actor committing the infringement. It’s then up to you to identify and prioritise the incidents in order of severity to minimise the damage that’s caused to your brand.

Constantly monitor app stores

In today’s digital world, it’s not enough for global brands to simply scan the most popular domestic app stores, and they need to make sure that they’re casting a watchful gaze over different stores all over the globe. This particularly includes markets where app stores are still emerging and therefore less secure.

The levels of security and quality of approval processes can vary from one app store to the next, and so the onus is ultimately on the brand to ensure that any instances of potential infringement are dealt with as soon as possible.

The use of smartphones and the popularity of apps continues to grow so quickly that it’s tough for businesses to keep their intellectual property safe within this space. However, by learning about the various forms of mobile app abuse and the different ways it can impact your business in the long-term, it becomes much easier for businesses to identify brand infringement and take charge accordingly.

Charlie Abrahams

Charlie Abrahams


Charlie Abrahams is Vice President of EMEA, MarkMonitor®.