Watching pirated movies on your iPhone just got a little harder. After climbing the charts of Apple’s App Store, the trendy Kimi app, with its collection of bootlegged movies, has just disappeared. Pretending to be a spot-the-difference vision-testing game, the widely downloaded app ranked above Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video in Apple’s charts this week for free entertainment apps before it was removed.
Without having to pay for anything or log in to any kind of account, iPhone owners could previously use Kimi to browse a wide selection of bootlegs for popular movies and TV shows. Many of the movies up for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars were on Kimi, at varying levels of quality.
Poor Things was included in a grainy, pixelated state, but a high-quality version of Killers of the Flower Moon was on Kimi to stream, although an intrusive ad for online casinos was splashed across the top. That definitely isn’t the viewing experience Martin Scorsese imagined for audiences. Not just limited to movies, viewers were also able to access episodes of currently airing TV shows, like RuPaul’s Drag Race, through the Kimi app.
Who was behind this piracy app? It remains a mystery. The developer was listed as “Marcus Evans” in the app store before Kimi was taken down, and this was the only app listed under that name, likely a pseudonym. WIRED was unable to reach Evans or anyone involved with the Kimi app prior to publication.
Apple is known for being meticulous and protective of its “walled garden” for safe-to-download apps, so it’s surprising to see a piracy streaming option, like Kimi, climb so high on the charts before being axed. Kimi received more than 100 user reviews in the App Store, many of which blatantly mentioned the free movies hidden within the app, and it had a four-star user rating. A representative for Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This isn’t the first a piracy app that has garnered tons of downloads in the App Store, though. In 2015, WIRED spoke with the developers behind Popcorn Time, a similar app. Security reporter Andy Greenberg wrote, “With Popcorn Time, the complexity of BitTorrent search engines, trackers, clients, seeds, decompression, playback, and storage is reduced to a single click.” It’s unconfirmed how Kimi was providing the streams, but the process of watching bootlegs was definitely simplified for users—just download the smartphone app and press Play.
The Kimi app’s saga is emblematic of a new resurgence in online piracy. A serious challenge for rights holders and movie and TV studios, piracy is once again on the rise. As streaming services crack down on shared passwords, and budget-conscious users search for cheaper entertainment options, the black market for bootlegs will likely continue to blossom.