Friday, July 12, 2019

Predatory iOS App Subscriptions

David Barnard:

I decided to try and tune the my niece’s Disney princess guitar and went to the App Store looking for a tuner. Top result is an ad for an app by MVM, the company I called out last week for shady onboarding and $400+/yr subscriptions.

Second result is a curated story, so I figured that would be better than continuing to look through the search results. So I download one of those apps. Similar shady onboarding, then a $100/yr subscription. (At least this one has a close button hidden in the top left.)


What’s especially insidious is that to make these scams work, developers are spending tons of money on user acquisition. I’ve talked to some knowledgable folks who estimate these apps spend as much as 90% of their gross revenue on app install ads.


Apple is allowing these scams to tarnish their brand and destroy people’s trust in the App Store to make a little extra money and pad the pockets of Google and Facebook. They’ve been playing whack-a-mole for years instead of doing the deeper work of re-aligning incentives.


And that brings us back to my rant last fall. Not only is Apple failing to re-aligning incentives, they are actively incentivizing revenue over user experience by featuring apps based on how well they do financially without regard for how they do it.

Dominik Wagner:

The @AppStore currently promotes a metronome app that has a $7.99 weekly price. That is $415.48 for the default trial subscription it shows at start. That’s promoting fraud. And not the first occasion. @Apple we demand better.

Rene Ritchie:

Gross. Looks like a few metronome apps do this. Among a ton of other gross of apps.

Totally destroys the “you can just trust it” reputation of the @AppStore

Hope Apple cracks down on all the subscription scams and yesterday.

I don’t think Apple should ban these apps or prevent developers from setting the prices. But it should be easier for customers to see what they’re committing to and to cancel before they get rebilled.

Ryan Jones:

The scammers that are ruining the App Store WILL erode consumer trust, Apple’s advantage, viability of good products, and services revenue.

Again, I think and talk about it a lot, because these things change slowly, then all of a sudden.


Update (2019-07-23): Ryan Jones:

Whhhhhhaaaaat. LOL. Found this app because the twin sisters that made it were featured in the App Store.

Now THAT is a paywall. 🤣

Ryan Jones:

Here’s a video.


....$500 per year. Hahahah

Ryan Jones:

OMG, if you try to close the paywall...

At this point - pure scam. Through and through.

Paul Haddad:

I like how the $520 subscription text is unreadable. Also wow this is an app target at kids, how the hell can Apple feature this. Shameful.

John Gruber:

More than just unreadable, I’d argue they go to extraordinary lengths to render it illegible. It’s more like a hidden easter egg.

Marco Arment:

App Store subscription scams are 100% Apple’s fault, with most of the problem being the design of the purchase-confirmation screen.

Look at how little space is used to communicate the price, buried under a wall of boilerplate “policy” text, surrounded by huge calls to action.

If Apple’s going to continue accepting apps despite exorbitant subscription pricing — probably the only enforceable option — iOS needs to MUCH better communicate pricing on the IAP confirmation screen.

I’d like to see short-duration subs show the true price per month or year.

Ryan Jones:

Exactly, plus the incentives they have created. All their policies incentive this, we are the fools fighting what the platform‘s natural gravitational pull is telling us to do.

David Hsu:

Ignorant app review is one thing—we’re used to it—but actively promoting apps like this, with Apple taking 30% cut of whatever amount these scams rake in… It’s hard to not doubt these repeated offenses from Apple are completely accidental.

Kyle Howells:

Apple avoided upgrade pricing… because they disagreed with the user experience or the principle? 🤷🏻‍♂️

Instead they’ve pushed developers towards subscriptions, with this completely predictable result. The AppStore is now full of spam and scam apps trying to trick you.

Update (2019-08-02): Mark Villacampa:

This? Oh, nothing, just a QR code app that charges a 10€/week subscription, hoping people forget to unsubscribe after the 3 days free trial period

Update (2019-08-19): Lukas Stefanko:

Over 2,000 scam apps discovered on App Store #iOS

-scan fingerprint to make in-app purchase
-some of them are still on App Store
-2 apps made around $400k in June alone
-list of 517 apps

Apps ask users to place their finger on the Home button to take a heart-beat reading. App dims the display to minimum to hide the content — which is actually dialogue requesting authorization for in-app purchase.

Craig Grannell:

There is no way to escape the screen and use even a feature-limited version of the app. The FREE FOR NEW USERS button shimmers and animates, and the header states you can “access all features for free”. However, beneath the shimmering button is a comparatively dull one, outlining a staggering £24.49 fee – for a filter app. This is clearly designed to drive people to prod the free button; but take another look and you see some really faint grey text below, which notes that the trial is for just three days. After that point, you’ll be charged a monstrous £8.49 per week – more even than that monthly fee.

Sure enough, tap the button labelled FREE under the heading that says ‘For Free’, and you’re invited to join a piffling three-day free trial that then converts into an £8.49 per week charge. On older iPhones, this is horribly easy to trigger in error – automatic, if your thumb’s already on the Home button.

Update (2019-09-27): See also: Fleeceware (via Hacker News).

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

ANY app that pops up a subscription when I first launch it (or even any subsequent launch) is an automatic Force Quit --> Delete. If I want to subscribe, I know how to go to the apps settings and do it myself. Any other method is almost guaranteed to be a scam.

It's funny that they mention metronome apps in particular. I also noticed this pattern of nearly every app wanting a subscription -- for a metronome! I think they must be out of their minds. A metronome app should be $5 at MOST. I can buy a real metronome on Amazon for $20!!! Subscriptions should be for ongoing frequently used services (like weather or password management apps) or MAYBE for apps which have a legitimate reason to continually add new complex features (NOT for fixing bugs or keeping the app up to date with minor iOS 'point' updates).

Leave a Comment