Apple developers could charge you extra without you knowing
Apple offers auto-renewable subscriptions for its App Store that lets people access content, services, and other premium in-app features. A recent change allowed App Store developers to automatically charge users when a subscription price goes up. Here’s everything you need to know and watch out for to prevent higher bills at the end of the month. Yesterday, we also showed you how to charge your iPhone with a USB-C cable.
Up until today, subscriptions required users to opt-in before the developer applied an increase, which is set to change as it will no longer need any input from users. Apple’s reasoning for the change is that the manual opting in or out of these subscriptions was a tedious task and that it often “led to some services being unintentionally disrupted for users as they must take steps to resubscribe within the app, from Settings on iPhone and iPad, or in the App Store on Mac.”
With the new policy update, developers will be able to offer an auto-renewable subscription price increase without requiring the user to take any action. Users will still receive advance notifications and emails about upcoming changes to their subscription price, but they’ll automatically opt-in, even if they manage to cancel and change their package too late.
There are a few specific conditions that developers must meet in order to apply higher subscription prices without requiring the user to opt-in manually, and those are the following:
The price increase cannot occur more than once per year, and it “doesn’t exceed US$5 and 50% of the subscription price, or US$50 and 50% for an annual subscription price, and is permissible by local law.”
Anything above the annual threshold will require subscribers to opt in before applying the price increase. Those who don’t opt-in before their next billing period will have their subscription canceled. The user can always resubscribe within the app, just like before.
The process above isn’t entirely new, and phone contracts – at least here in the UK – work similarly. Before a user can take the phone home, the contract has to be signed, where the small print states that the monthly cost could increase or decrease based on the inflation and other price adjustments, and it usually goes up by a few percent annually. For instance, a phone contract that you purchase for $20 a month could be $22 a month the year after the adjustments. That, however, is for a phone contract that is explicitly stated before it is signed; therefore the user has no reason not to accept the changes as they must have read and understood the agreement before signing up for it.
Allowing developers to do the same practice to adjust their prices within the threshold can be dangerous. A quick look around the App Store reveals that developers keep abusing users’ trust and force them to sign up for weekly and monthly subscriptions. There are a lot of phone wallpaper apps – only using this as an example – on the app store that tricks people into paying weekly without people realizing that they have signed up for a subscription service. The practice can be dangerous by bad actors. It could lead to higher bills than expected, especially if the emails and other forms of communication go unnoticed for whatever reason.
The fact that Apple is promoting this is a little surprising, but it makes sense to a certain degree. Accepting and opting into price increases can be a daunting task for less tech-savvy users, and it might be easier just to let them know about the changes and charge them anyway when the time comes. But, it once again raises the question of whether it is ethical to use these customers to generate revenue. It’s a grey area, since the user can, at any time, go ahead and cancel their subscription, and they could even contact Apple to request a refund for an accidental sign-up.
I am not a fan of these changes, and I prefer to stay in control at all times. If a service increases its prices, I want a clear explanation of why that is happening, what I can do about it if I refuse to pay the higher costs, and how I can easily accept and opt-in. Most services automatically renew subscriptions when the price goes up, but it’s not something that Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other platforms should adapt. It’s also questionable what the UK regulator and the European Commission will think of the practices. They have recently demanded that Microsoft change how their subscriptions work, making it easier for users to cancel their Game Pass when they no longer use or have access to the service.