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Android is growing like a weed. According to comScore, Android has extended its lead as the top smartphone platform in the United States, now accounting for 40% of the market.

The ecosystem around Android, however, isn't anywhere near as strong for Android, and Google may have a tough time doing that if it doesn't quickly respond to reports that some Android developers have been underpaid for sales of their apps in the Android Market.

According to The Register, "merchants have established that it is web-based sales that seem to disappear, and that these can be identified by the addition of a semi-colon to the application name." Apparently the problem has been present for months.

Needless to say, it would behoove Google to rectify what is almost certainly an accidental issue. Given that the problem appears to affect only web-based sales, which one would logically assume make up a relatively small portion of Android Market sales, it's likely that the underpayments are minor when compared to total Android Market sales.

The incident, however, is worth noting because it highlights an important fact: businesses selling digitally through third parties are frequently wholly dependent on those third parties to accurately track sales and earnings. Here, The Register reports that "the issue first surfaced at the end of last year, with a few developers noticing a mismatch between sales and receipts." Had developers not been in possession of the data needed to identify a discrepancy, it's possible this issue would have gone completely unnoticed.

So what can individuals and businesses selling through third parties online do? A few tips:

  • Only work with third parties you trust. Mistakes happen, but the best way to mitigate against fraud is to deal only with companies you believe are competent and trustworthy.
  • Pay attention. When you let others sell for you, there's no such thing as cruise control. If all you do is cash checks and assume that you're being paid what you owe, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Verify wherever possible. If you can, use technology to your advantage. App developers, for instance, can theoretically track installs of newly purchased apps, enabling a comparison of reported sales to actual installs.
  • Read the fine print. While you may not be able to change the terms of service when dealing with the Googles and Apples of the world, some contracts that involve third party sales arrangements provide for audit rights. Where possible and appropriate, these may be worth negotiating.
Patricio Robles

Published 5 August, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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