You have an app! Now what? If you’re sharing inside a free or lightly censored region, you can share the download page url or QR code for your app provided by AppMaker. That’s the easy part. Now, how do you get your app inside a censored region? There are a few different ways to provide access. They include:
Alternative app stores
Github or Gitlab
Once your app is available for download in China, promote it. Here are some useful tips:
Word of mouth
QR codes: Create and share QR codes that link to the download page
Promoting via other platforms that are not blocked in China
Email: Directly send the download link or APK file to other people
Alternative app stores
If you have a download site setup, you can test it to make sure it works in China as you’re promoting the app. Check to see if a website is blocked in China here: https://en.greatfire.org/analyzer
Alternative App Store
Get it into a 3rd party app store.
There are over 50 alternative Android app stores to Google Play in China. Do note, however, that these app stores self-censor the apps which appear in their stores. You will also likely need to have local representation in China to be able to submit your app to one of these 50 app stores.
GreatFire operates its own uncensored Android app store for China - contact firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your app to the GreatFire App Store.
How to do it: Please check the websites or submission guidelines of each app store.
Why it’s recommended: It’s the most familiar and easiest way for many ordinary mobile users to download apps from app stores. Although users may not have heard about your app, they can find it when searching other apps in the same categories. Your app may attract various new users through this approach.
What’s a third party app store? Are they trustworthy?: Almost all Android apps are downloaded via Google Play. But in some countries, Google Play is blocked and/or Google censors apps on their own platforms. This means that Android users need to find other ways to access apps. In China, the authorities blocked Google Play to force users to use local Chinese app stores which can be more easily controlled by the authorities. Apple, on the other hand, works closely with the Chinese authorities to censor any app that the authorities want to censor (see applecensorship.com).
For the average user, it is very difficult to determine if a third party App Store is trustworthy. If you are an expert Android developer or an expert security auditor, then you may be able to review the source code of an app and/or an independent security audit of an app. But most users will rely on word of mouth or recommendations from friends and trusted networks.
Github or Gitlab
Publish on Github or Gitlab.
On Gitlab, you can upload the software for your app directly to the website (the app’s APK). Visitors to the website can then download the app directly.
On GitHub and Gitlab you can also upload a QR code for your app. Users then need only scan the code to be able to directly download the app on their devices.
On GitHub and Gitlab you can also direct users to a special download page (see below).
How to do it: Sign up for accounts on GitHub or Gitlab. It’s free and these websites are freely accessible in all countries.
Set up a mirror website with the app download.
If your website is blocked in your target country, you should create another website where users can download your app. You can then promote this website address to your target market (i.e. using GitHub and Gitlab as described above). Do continue to monitor the status of your website using tools like this: https://en.greatfire.org/analyzer
If your website gets blocked, then be prepared to repeat the process, ensuring that you update the website address across all promotional material.
Share the direct download file (APK) in a messaging app, via email, etc.
Android apps can be shared as files. These files can then be distributed using messaging apps or via email.
How to do it:
Email: Your organization may already have a mailing list of users in the target country. Your subscribers can then be sent QR codes, links to download websites, or the actual APK file itself.
Messaging app: If you have contacts of your target users, you can send the QR codes, download link, or APK file to them.
Social Media: Post the QR code images, download link, or APK file on your social media accounts.
Telegram: Set up a public channel and share the link with others. Then you can share the QR codes, download link, or APK file only with the participants.
Why it’s recommended: This is recommended if you are already in contact with your target users and they trust you. It can be considered as spam or phishing if recipients do not know you nor trust you.
Is it okay to share my app on WeChat?
Yes, although WeChat censors much information on their platform (see freewechat.com) and the public sharing of the app might also result in you losing your WeChat account. If you share the app on WeChat, you can also share it with friends via private messages.
What is sideloading?
Sideloading refers to the practice of installing software on a phone without using an approved app store or official (verifiable) distribution channel.
On an Android phone, it’s possible to download an app from a (direct download) link sent to you by someone you trust. You may also notice that websites will sometimes offer a direct download option for Android apps.
Is it safe?
Sideloading can be safe, but also carries some risk. If you are sharing a download link, make sure you know that what you are sharing is the official and latest version of the app. Also, it’s recommended that you send the link to the official source code (usually on Gitlab or Github). This gives people a way to download the latest version directly from the source if they can.
Is it possible to verify the authenticity of an app?
You can check if an app is authentic or malicious in the following ways:
Check the download link URL: If you directly download an app from its download page on the AppMaker website (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/), they are authentic. However, be careful with similar URLs (i.e. greatfire.appmaker.org; appmaker.org; appmaker.greatfire.com).
Malware check: Just downloading a file itself would not compromise your device. But it is dangerous if you open the file and install it. If you are suspicious about the authenticity of an app, you may upload the APK file to a malware check service, such as Virustotal (https://www.virustotal.com/) or just test the APK file on any other antivirus software (e.g. Avast https://www.avast.com/; Malwarebytes https://www.malwarebytes.com/) to test if the file is harmful.
If you are still suspicious, you can also contact the app distributor or us (email@example.com) for verification.