Piracy concerns rise in Asia as Android set-top boxes gain popularity – here’s what an expert says needs urgent addressing

The Straits times

Know someone who gets their daily entertainment from an Android set-top box (STB)? If you live in Asia, chances are you probably do.

Research published by Dataxis in 2017 showed that the Asia Pacific region now accounts for 44% of the worldwide Android STB market, the highest of any other region in the world.

But as with all things reliant on the internet, the rise in Android STB use has also encouraged the growth of piracy. With the open nature of Android devices and the proliferation of unauthorised STBs, it is even harder for content providers to monitor or prevent viewers from illegally accessing streaming video or content.

In October 2017, Digital TV Research reported that revenues lost to online piracy globally will almost double from $26.7 billion to $51.6 billion in 2022.

In addition, Asia Pacific will surpass North America to become the largest region for online piracy this year, the report said.

Last year, software security company Irdeto’s survey of 25,000 adults across 30 countries found that 52% of consumers around the globe knowingly watched pirated video content.

Irdeto’s regional director for ANZ, SEA & Japan, Roger Harvey, told Business Insider in an interview that the two biggest obstacles to preventing piracy is education of both consumers and operators, as well as legal frameworks.

Not only do consumers need to learn about the spyware and malware vulnerabilities they expose themselves to by using unauthorised STBs, operators need to also know how to implement high-tech security solutions to protect their content and devices.

Irdeto’s survey found that consumers may not be aware that they are engaging in illegal activity when they stream pirated content from someone else. “As a result, more education may be required to educate consumers that engaging in any form of piracy (producing, sharing, downloading or streaming) is illegal,” the report said.

From the operator’s point of view the concern is that consumers will download illegal apps to watch stolen content on their STBs, Mr Harvey said.

Calling the growth of STBs in Asia “huge”, Mr Harvey says the Android platform is “incredibly attractive” as it helps operators get content to consumers quickly. But at the same time, its open platform makes security a top concern.

Security for STBs is not just about encryption, but also about making sure that illegal content its not able to stream on an operator’s box.

The interest in demand for Android STBs from traditional pay-TV operators is very strong worldwide, but registers strongest in Asia, with “very strong demand” from countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand where there is a large base of legacy STBs that are technologically outdated.

Saying that many operators in Asia may not be aware of the security options available, he said: “It’s not a magic wand… but you can take them down.”

And then there are the illicit streaming devices (ISDs) which are sold in smaller stores in many parts of Asia.

“A lot of the boxes that are coming out (from China) have pirate software pre-loaded on them,” Mr Harvey said, but differing legal infrastructures in various Asian jurisdictions makes criminal enforcement difficult.

“The legal structure country by country is a big problem,” he said.

He added that technology, law enforcement and education have to work hand in hand to keep any platform secure.

Across Asia, the most urgent issues lie in legal frameworks and education.

Piracy involves an entire spectrum of participants, from unaware consumers to organised crime syndicates earning millions of dollars from illegal content.

And if nothing is done about ISDs, it will “hurt the whole industry in the end”.