After a mostly successful campaign against pirated iOS apps in 2012, new services gained traction in the early part of 2013 and brought app piracy back into focus as a major concern for both developers and Apple. But after an exposé on the situation earlier this week, one of those services has backed down.
As revealed by The Next Web on Tuesday, the app service Zeusmos quickly became popular as it allowed users to find and install pirated iOS apps for free with relative ease, even on non-jailbroken devices (although there was a small one-time fee charged to install apps on a non-jailbroken devices). This was accomplished through a combination of reselling developer testing slots to Zeusmos’s users, something that is explicitly forbidden by Apple’s terms of service and developer agreements, and providing a developer licensing certificate via the service to complete the installation of apps that had been stripped of their DRM, something that users could not easily do on their own.
The end result was a “one-click” method of finding and installing a huge number of commercial iOS apps at almost no cost to the end user.
In response to The Next Web exposé, Zeusmos’s developer, a 15-year-old hacker using the alias “uhelios,” claimed that app piracy was never his intent, and that he created the service simply to provide an alternate method of code-signing iOS apps outside of Apple’s control.
The intent of Zeusmos will be to SOLELY code sign applications. We will not be supporting or encouraging any form of piracy through the link providers or even via search (although they were based off the iTunes API).
The intents [sic] as I have stated [was] to allow open development for developers. Recently I’ve had the time to add this feature into Zeusmos called the “Exclusive Apps” section where developers who got their application rejected in the App Store were able to post their application on here for free and share their application to a large audience of users. Such applications even included Grooveshark and many others.
While such a goal is in a sense laudable, especially in the eyes of those who oppose Apple’s tight control over the iOS ecosystem, the reality of easy app piracy remained, despite the creator’s intent.
Thankfully, the developer quickly followed through on his promises and took action to limit the ability of his service to be used for app piracy. As reported by Geek.com Wednesday, uhelios announced that changes would be made to Zeusmos to discourage future piracy:
Whether I actually encourage [piracy] or not is the very problem that lies here today. In this developing world where a person inevitably encounters restrictions on accessing or learning information in such ways of finances, is somewhat saddening to me. But we have to understand it from a point of view on both sides of the issue, the consumer and producer. I’m not going to lie, I tended to side with the reasons of the consumer rather than the producer, to which has gotten me into this sticky mess today. As a result, I intend on resolving the controversy regarding Zeusmos and its brought about association with piracy.
Amended features in the Upcoming Zeusmos Version:
- Zeusmos will no longer allow ease of access to App Store applications via the iTunes API nor any link providers (e.g. IPAStore, AppCake, iDwaneo)
- There will be more rigid improvements in user awareness of installing unauthorized applications (listed in Zeusmos’s T&C)
- Zeusmos will continue to never encourage the installation of applications that have been cracked or pirated in any form.
- Application sharing will be prohibited
Revealing an ugly side of the iOS community, after the above announcement was published, uhelios was immediately flooded with emails from paid users demanding a refund because they would no longer have easy access to pirated apps.
The Zeusmos website is still down as of the time of this article, but uhelios has promised a quick return of the service, this time exclusively as an outside code-signing tool. The very nature of the “new and improved” Zeusmos means that app piracy is still possible, but it will be significantly more difficult for inexperienced users, and the “one-click” method, tied in to the App Store API, will be gone.
Apple, developers, and the entire iOS community may consider this a small victory in the latest fight against piracy. The only question now is how long it will take for another young developer’s project to take Zeusmos’s place.
Teaser graphic made with help from Shutterstock.