Thursday, September 3, 2020

Purchasing In-App Ads Without IAP

Ben Lovejoy:

The iPhone maker claims that it treats all apps equally, but the reality is that Apple has developed a complex set of rules which allow it to make exceptions to suit its own needs…


Ads are digital goods. What else are ads? Spiritual goods? They are the digital good. They are what is driving the digital economy in the first place! And, yes, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on do have direct transactions built into the apps. And, no, they do not pay any fees to Apple for these in-app transactions.


You can buy, run and track ads on Instagram in one of three ways.

Within the App

The easiest way to run ads is by promoting posts you’ve shared on Instagram. Just select the post you want to promote, and then track how many people are seeing and interacting with your promoted post by tapping.

John Gruber:

“How’s this allowed?” I thought. But rereading the App Store Guidelines, I don’t think it violates anything? Not unlocking features, not paying for content.

Mohammed Hussain:

Same thing in the eBay app where you pay in-app using their credit card processing to add features to listings of items you are selling.


[3.1.1] If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase.


3.1.5(a) Goods and Services Outside of the App: If your app enables people to purchase goods or services that will be consumed outside of the app, you must use purchase methods other than in-app purchase to collect those payments, such as Apple Pay or traditional credit card entry.

I suppose Apple’s argument would be that ads and listings are primarily consumed inside the app but by other people. However, you can also manage your ads and listing within your copy of the app, so it certainly seems very similar to other purchases that would require IAP. I don’t see any principled distinction here.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.


Update (2020-09-07): Nick Heer:

Buying ads does not “unlock features or functionality within [an] app” any more than, say, using a banking app to send or receive money. Neither uses in-app purchases because it would not make sense. But that is an awful thin line that, as Reichenstein writes, benefits ad-supported anti-privacy apps over those that have a one-time or monthly cost.

Tanner Bennett:

I like the way you put it. There is no simple, consistent, principled set of rules to which IAPs get the cut and which don’t. At this point we should all realize it’s completely arbitrary. The “reader app” rule is arguably the most convoluted exception.

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