To curb the problem of counterfeiting and to empower consumers against counterfeit items, brands are coming up with smartphone apps to check fake products. The problem is: using smartphone apps without a comprehensive strategy for anti-counterfeiting isn’t helpful. The apps might give false positives and false negatives, affecting consumer trust and your brand image ultimately.

The problem of counterfeit products is spreading like a plague. Similar to a plague, counterfeit items pose a risk to human health, particularly in the case of consumables and pharmaceutical items.

In 2023, in the US alone, the value of the seized counterfeit items was over USD 2.41 billion. This means the brands whose products were counterfeited lost that amount in sales. What’s more, a 2020 report by OCED estimated the traded value of illicit pharmaceutical products worldwide to be USD 4.4 billion.

The problem is increasing with each passing year. For example, French Customs reported a 26% increase in counterfeit seizures in 2023 compared to 2022, along with a 250% increase in the seizures of counterfeit toys and games.

The data is alarming as the impact of counterfeits on consumers is far-reaching. For example, if an FMCG product is counterfeited containing harmful chemicals, it reaches a large number of consumers, affecting their health. Similarly, counterfeit luxury goods undermine the exclusivity and prestige associated with real products. Along with that, counterfeits also contribute to the proliferation of organized crime and illicit trade networks.

Smartphone Apps to Check Fake Products

To safeguard consumers and your brand image, brands need to come up with an authentication process that’s easy to access. But is it really possible?

For example, banknotes have multiple security features, but authenticating all of them would be difficult for consumers every time they make a transaction.

There are two kinds of anti-counterfeiting technologies that business owners can use: covert and overt. Overt technologies are the ones visible to the naked eye, such as a barcode, QR code, or serial number. Covert technologies are invisible to the naked eye but are more secure as they can’t be replicated, for example, an invisible ink or a special dye.

The type of technology used dictates how secure the consumer is. For the overt technologies, a human being follows the instructions to authenticate an item. For example, a human being uses a scanner to verify a QR code.

On the other hand, the authentication of covert technologies is made a machine, decreasing the risk of errors. Often, the machine is a smartphone used to authenticate covert technologies like Cryptoglyph or AlpVision Fingerprint.

Biggest Limitations of Smartphone Apps Authentication

While smartphone apps can help make the process of authentication faster, there are four main problems with them:

Problems with Smartphone Apps Authentication

  1. Variability in hardware: Based on the manufacturer and the type of smartphone, the quality of hardware differs. For example, the camera quality and screen resolution differences can impact the authentication process as the purchaser might not be able to scan the authentication features properly, affecting the accuracy of the authentication result. For example, the camera quality of a Realme phone would be different from a Samsung phone.
  2. Variability in software or operating system: Similar to hardware differences, the manufacturer impacts the type and quality of software of a mobile device. A different operating system (OS) version can decline the online download of the particular app needed for authentication. For example, the OS of an Apple iPhone differs from that of an Android phone like Samsung Galaxy.
  3. User limitation: Some users might not be capable of properly using the authentication apps. There are a huge number of consumers who aren’t familiar with the tech needed for authentication. Moreover, based on the complexity of the app, some might struggle to understand the functioning of the app.
  4. Uncontrolled environmental factors: Lighting plays a huge role when using the mobile phone camera as a scanner. If a light is falling directly on an authentication feature like a QR code, it won’t be scanned properly as the image of the code becomes unclear. Similarly, if the environment isn’t well-lit and is in a low light condition, the mobile phone camera will not be able to scan the feature.

Risk of False Positives and False Negatives

One of the primary concerns with smartphone authentication is the risk of false positives and false negatives. A false positive occurs when a counterfeit item is incorrectly identified as genuine, while a false negative occurs when a real item is mistakenly labeled as counterfeit. These errors undermine consumer trust and compromise the effectiveness of authentication efforts.

False positives can be particularly problematic, as they provide consumers with a false sense of security and lead them to unknowingly purchase counterfeit goods. This can have serious consequences, especially in industries where product authenticity is critical, such as pharmaceuticals and electronics.

Similarly, false negatives can result in genuine products being wrongly flagged as counterfeit, causing frustration and distrust among consumers. This can also damage brand reputation and lead to lost sales opportunities, as consumers may avoid buying the products while shopping they perceive as being at risk of counterfeiting.

False Positive Is Getting a Positive Result on a Counterfeit Item

Some technologies for authenticity are easy to replicate, making their security weak. For example, when a QR code is used as a security feature for a product, the counterfeiters can easily duplicate the code or reuse the packaging. When the end consumer scans the QR code and gets a false positive, they’ll unknowingly buy a counterfeit item.

While instances of false positives are less in a technology as good as Cryptoglyph, but even that’s not foolproof. This is because the packaging can be reused if it’s not tamper-proof.

A False Negative Is Getting a Negative Result on a Genuine Item

Getting a false negative is more common than expected. It could happen because of several reasons:

  1. User error: If a consumer isn’t able to follow the instructions for authenticity properly, the app will show a false negative. For example, errors in factors like lighting, camera position, and phone camera quality will affect the result.
  2. Production error: If suppliers forget a quality check and release unsecured products, the consumer won’t be able to check the authenticity, making it a false negative.

Smartphone App Authentication Must Be Part of the Ecosystem

The problems of smartphone app authentication can’t be solved individually. The solution is to integrate the authentication process into the entire ecosystem and product lifecycle – from manufacturing to consumption.

1. Comprehensive Manuals for Users

The first and foremost step is to educate the users about the authentication process, along with making the app’s user interface simple and intuitive. Creating a manual where users can understand factors like lighting, scanning, and more will help minimize the errors while authenticating.


2. Communication and User Support

Adding a user manual doesn’t guarantee the consumers would read it. You need to spread the education via multiple channels, along with making the user support team available to attend to queries.

For example, you can run social media campaigns about the need for authentication and how-to to inform consumers.

3. Include Multiple Layers of Authentication as a Part of the Global Strategy

Counterfeiters are always evolving with access to the latest tech. To stay ahead of them, brands need to create a global strategy with multiple layers of authentication.

For example, counterfeiters can reuse the packaging of a genuine item to sell counterfeits. To avoid this, brands need to invest in a tamper-proof packaging. Apart from that, you need to think about combining overt technologies like a barcode and QR code with covert technologies to make sure the counterfeiters aren’t able to copy the features.

AlpVision’s Secured QR Code is an example of such technology. It combines the QR code (overt security) with a special technology that adds micro holes to the back of the QR codes (covert security). The consumers can authenticate the product by a smartphone, where not only the QR code be checked, but also covert security added.

Create a Comprehensive Anti-counterfeiting Strategy to Safeguard Your Brand

Product authentication apps, when introduced with caution, give consumers the power to avoid counterfeit products and stay safe. However, just introducing a smartphone app doesn’t mean transferring the entire responsibility of avoiding counterfeits to the consumers. Brands still need to educate and implement comprehensive strategies with reliable authentication tools to keep the counterfeiting plague away.

Brands need to employ a multi-faceted approach for authentication to create a more robust defense against counterfeiting and better protect their products and consumers.

Some product categories would be more suited for smartphone app authentication than others. For example, a luxury handbag is more suited to this process compared to a pharmaceutical item.

AlpVision offers cutting-edge technologies for product protection, whether deployed internally or at the consumer level. Contact us today to discuss your product protection strategy and safeguard your business against counterfeit threats. Let’s work together to secure the integrity of your products and protect consumers worldwide.


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