Thursday, July 7, 2022

Apple lets your subscription apps charge you more money without asking

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Apple has updated the App Store rules to ensure that subscriptions can be automatically renewed without your express consent, even if the developer has increased the monthly or annual price. Before the rule change, users had to manually sign up for a subscription renewal if it was accompanied by a price increase; now it doesn’t necessarily have to be, although you will still be notified of the price change before it takes place. Apple says it’s making the change to prevent users from inadvertently losing access to a subscription because they missed an opt-in message.

According to Apple’s Monday Evening Mail, there are specific conditions developers must meet if they want to offer what the company calls “an auto-renewable subscription price increase.” For starters, it can only be so big – Apple’s rules say: that if a developer increases a weekly or monthly subscription price by more than 50 percent, and that difference is more than $5, they are not eligible. For an annual subscription, developers can still raise the price by 50 percent, but no more than $50 USD without requiring an opt-in.

Here are some examples of what that might look like: Let’s say I have a $60 per year subscription. The developers could raise it to $90 ($60 plus 50 percent), and it would automatically renew without me having to sign up for it. If I have a monthly subscription of $15, and the developers wanted to increase it to $22, then in theory I should go for that – it’s less than 50 percent, but above the $5 limit.

Apple’s wording leaves things a little unclear, though: What if there’s an app that costs $10 a year and goes up to $60 a year? Apple’s rules literally say permission is needed if the price increase:

More than 50% of the current price; and

The price difference is more than about $5 USD (USD) per period for non-annual subscriptions, or $50 USD per year for annual subscriptions.

If you read that literally, it means that both conditions must be true to require an opt-in. But the example scenario seems so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe this is what Apple is up to. We have requested clarification on this point and will update when we receive it.

The price can only be increased once a year without the need for an opt-in, which should help prevent scammy apps from slowly increasing their price by a dollar or two every two months. Apple also says the price increase “must be allowed by local law,” although that was probably a given.

If any of these conditions are not met, you must still sign up for the price increase or your subscription will expire. Apple says users will be notified of upcoming automatic renewals with price changes via “email, push notifications and in-app messages”. It’s worth noting that you could easily flip Apple’s logic on its head: if users missed those renewal opt-in notifications, wouldn’t they miss these new price change alerts too? But it sounds like they will be relatively in your face.

We’ve seen evidence that this change was coming – last month, TechCrunch reported that Apple appeared to be testing this change with a Disney Plus price increase. Developer Max Seelemann too posted a screenshot in March showed what one of the notifications looked like, although it’s not clear if this is the final design. At the time, Apple confirmed it was “testing a new trading feature that we plan to launch very soon,” and said it would provide details. Looks like that day is here.

The screenshot from March shows that near the “OK” button, there is a link that reads “View your subscription to learn more or cancel.” Apple’s message on Monday says it will also “educate users on how to view, manage and cancel subscriptions, if desired,” a promise that would ostensibly be fulfilled by that link.

From my point of view, Apple is definitely making a trade-off between customer friendliness and convenience here. There are probably a lot of people who will be happy that they don’t have to resubscribe to something just because the price has gone up by a dollar and they missed an opt-in prompt.

Personally, though, I’d like to know where every dollar is going – and since I almost always opt for annual plans, it seems like I need to look for apps that can go up in price by a pretty significant amount (that $60 plan wasn’t a hypothetical example). ). Here’s an easy fix for this: let users choose whether they want the auto-renewing price increases or not instead of deciding for it. In my mind that would just be a toggle in the App Store settings that says something like “Always ask to opt-in if the price goes up”, and turning it on would make it seem like this change never happened.

Apple did not immediately respond The edgewhether there were any plans to add such a switch.

Or, if Apple really wants to be customer-friendly, it can keep subscriptions from auto-renewing by default. As my colleague Sean Hollister noted in his piece on how Apple could show it cares about App Store users, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has a pertinent quote (although he was talking about privacy at the time):

ask them. Ask them every time. Have them tell you to stop asking if they get tired of you asking them.

With this rule change, Apple is one step further away from that.

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