Friday, February 19, 2021

Unhelpful App Store E-mail Receipts

Tyler Hall (tweet):

It’s always difficult to tell when Apple charges you for something and what it was for. Because unlike every other online retailer, they queue up email receipts for an indeterminate amount of time.


Huh. I have no idea what that receipt is for.

This is because, surprisingly, receipts don’t say which app the subscription is associated with.

Sure enough, the Apple ID in 12px font is for my 68-year-old mother. It was her purchase!

But I still have no idea what the app is. And I’m very suspicious because there’s basically zero chance she would ever willingly spend $39.99 on an app. Much less one that automatically renews.


The Order ID link doesn’t open anything in on iOS.

On the Mac, it eventually leads to the Music app.

But there’s no way to search for your purchases. And even if you could, what would you search for? Apple’s receipt didn’t give you any meaningful information. Your only option is to scroll the list and see if you recognize the receipt’s app icon.


Let’s tap the “DOCUMENT NO.” link. (Now, if you’re a developer like me, you know exactly what comes next and why.)

iOS thinks it’s a phone number.

In the email receipt on my desktop browser, clicking the “Write a Review” link opens Chrome and once again asks if I want to open Sure.

And there it is. Inside, right next to all my music playlists, the App Store page loads, and I can see my mom signed up for an automatically renewing $39.99 a year subscription for…

…a white noise app.


It may seem like innocuous onboarding steps, but I know for a fact - based on what comes next - that this developer is already using a dark pattern to trick customers into subscribing.

Jeff Johnson:

pologists: “iOS App Store lockdown is necessary to protect people like your mother who aren’t computer experts.”

your mother: [scammed by iOS App Store]

Paul Haddad:

I think most people would agree that $40/year for a white noise app is a troublesome price. But does anyone want Apple deciding what fair prices are? I’d say no, but then again $40/year…


Update (2021-02-22): David Wendland:

I’ve heard these email invoices have been corrected

4 Comments RSS · Twitter

I see Jeff Johnson is still ad-hom-ing his way to victorious argument. No surprise there.

iOS App Store lockdown is how Apple chooses to run its business. Apple customers can either 1. accept that, or 2. take their business elsewhere.†

You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to think that it’s fair. But as long as Apple’s behavior isn’t outright illegal then your only valid options are #1 or #2 above. Pick one, stick it, and shut up already. The world doesn’t need even more useless bores (hey it’s already got Tim Cook).

Now, a productive criticism is to point out that Apple is a bunch of huge flaming hypocrites for asserting their curated AppStore provides their customers a safe, secure, trusted source of Apps, when time and again that AppStore is publicly proven to contain, and even promote, a non-trivial quantity of malware‡ while Apple’s interest in, and mechanisms for, effectively correcting that problem and compensating customers who are stung by it is basically piss-all.

In other words, hoist them on their own damn petard. Rip them a fresh one for promising one thing (a top-rate product) then delivering another (a sack of turds). Which they richly deserve and have fully earned.

But don’t keep trying to hijack Apple’s chronic failure to provide its customers with the service it has promised them, just so you can advance your own personal/professional/ideological agendas. Apple is not going to run their business for your benefit; and you must be incredibly stupid, conceited, or both to think that they would. Thus all you’re doing is sending up vast clouds of worthless smoke and noise, under cover of which Apple will happily continue stiffing its customers for as long as their hard-earned cash keeps rolling in to its fatted accounts.


Goddamn, and folks wonder why I loathe computer nerds. The most know-it-all know-nothing egotists I have ever encountered, who (for all their self-flattering white-knighting IMAX-projecting claims to the contrary) invariably make everything about themselves.

Be useful or get out the way.


(† The only other option is to try to prove in a court of law that Apple is a monopoly, but let’s ignore that because A. at best it’s junior party in a duopoly, and B. that’s not what the peanut gallery is doing here.)

(‡ “Malware” in the broadest sense, in which I include all these “sneaky charges” apps that gouge unsuspecting users for huge repeating fees. Apple could auto-detect these behavioral patterns and flag those apps for review with its eyes closed. It chooses not to. Because the only thing this post-Jobs Apple leadership cares about is greenbacks.)

And since it bears repeating: the problem here is not opaque receipts, or scammy apps, or lack of third-party stores, or whatever. Those are only symptoms, not a cause.

The problem is that there are no stakeholders involved: no-one whose job responsibility is to make their product (AppStore) work right, and be personally answerable when it does not. That requires smart ambitious people with a spine of steel, utterly unafraid to disrupt to get that job done.

Which is to say, exactly the sort of person who doesn’t fit neatly and quietly in Tim Cook’s perfectly oiled Swiss cuckoo clock.

The Jobs-era Apple had that stakeholder person on its staff: Steve Jobs himself. He wasn’t always right or quick off the mark, but he was right more often than wrong and when he was proved wrong he owned that problem and fixed it. (My goto example is the FCPX debacle, and I’m sure Michael’s blogged others in the past.)

Cook’s not a stakeholder, which is fine in itself. But he’s failed to appoint others who are to run the various operations of which Apple is composed. Thus, the “people in charge” of AppStore’s running are complacently happy to draw fat salaries for phoning it in, because they’re not immediately and entirely answerable for any problems it might have. Liability is smeared across the ranks until no individual is responsible, eventually stopping at the top with a board that rates its own success solely in terms of how much money the business rakes in every quarter. This is how Quality rots. The “people in charge” can afford to run the Brand into the ground over the long term, because their golden parachutes are always in good working order, ready to carry them away from any crash they’ve ultimately caused and onto their next spiffing adventure before the pileup is even begun.

(Indeed, particularly venal senior managers/directors will deliberately serve their own personal interests at the company’s cost, even the point of destroying that company entirely; e.g. Enron.)

That’s the problem. And it’s 100% a wetware bug at the very top: PEBKAC at the executive level.

Meanwhile, the people who ought to be well placed to call this out—the AppStore’s million-odd suppliers (third-party developers)—are utterly obsessed on diagnosing the output errors they see (using their superior technical skills), instead of asking why those errors are happening in the first place—and then keep happening again and again and again—and identifying the source of that.

Geeks are tremendously good at understanding tech and utterly rubbish at understanding people. Until that changes, little else will.


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffett

@has: Wow, a hat trick. Claiming that legality makes an act acceptable, personal attacks, and, ironically, using writing to claim that writing never changes anything.

“Claiming that legality makes an act acceptable”

If it’s dislikable but acceptable under law, your choices are: 1. live with it, 2. take your business some place else. (Especially in America, the land of fire-at-will.) Or, you can try to get the law changed, but GLWT.

So let’s not pretend: this is about your entitlement running into the harsh reality of our material world, and being unhappy at the inevitable result. Stoppable force, meet immovable rock. All you achieve is boring everyone else to death with your ineffectual whine.

“personal attacks”

That’s also funny considering Jeff Johnson was doing exactly that. So according to the Apple peanut gallery I am a lickspittle Apple shill who hates Tim Cook for being successful? Honestly, I can’t even.

As for criticising Tim Cook, how exactly is saying he’s a second-rate Apple CEO because all he understands and cares about is efficiency and revenue a “personal attack”? His management shows no sign that he understands the importance of Brand, and of protecting that brand against damage, and has failed to break any new markets in a decade. He rent-seeks to compensate for his inability to grow the customer base. He has, by account of at least one ex-Apple executive, no imagination. Apple’s market growth has been comatose for five years, and yet it’s still pumping up profits. It doesn’t take a great company director to spot a mediocre one.

[One More Thing: Tim Cook is also happy to stand on stage and LIE to his customers. Like the times he told his Edu customers that Apple made Swift so their kids could learn to code. No, Apple created Swift because Chris Lattner was playing with himself one day and some idiot manager said “oh hey, we could use that”. First great failure of Tim Cook’s management: 10 years on and their development platform is still an absolute shambles, with no clear business objective in sight. But it delights the nerds. This is early-90s Apple pathology all over again—herds of tails wagging the dog—and Tim Cook let it happen. Jobs would be appalled, were he alive to see it now. The man knew how to sell, and how to design product to sell to market, and would be sick at Cook’s “let’s hawk some snakeoil and hope people are dumb enough to buy it” salesmanship.†]

“writing to claim that writing never changes anything”

Has my writing changed anything? Except for your petty ’nym? Your writing certainly hasn’t changed a thing: my low regard for you and yours’ opinions remains low. At least my opinions have analysis and the odd citation to back them up. All you’ve got is “well, that’s, like, just your opinion, man”. Yes it is, but my opinions are provisional; always open to correction and improvement as more and better information comes in. (A depressingly rare trait in today’s Computer ScienceReligion.)

Yet the only information that you’ve provided is: you don’t like me. So what? I don’t like me. If you’re trying to hurt me delicate feels, don’t bother: I don’t have any. Either shred my arguments using superior logic and evidence, or remain precisely the sort of impotent butthurt crybaby my (admittedly purple) prose was written to expose.


† Bonus: It didn’t work.

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