Apple Begins Crackdown on Sketchy, Misleading App Subscriptions

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Apple is conducting an evaluation of its App Store and pulling titles built on deceptive or high-priced subscription formats, following a TechCrunch report published earlier this month which sought to shed a spotlight on these shady practices.

More specifically, according to a separate piece published this week by Forbes, Apple is actively combing through the iOS App Store in search of subscription-based apps which could potentially be baiting customers with “misleading and confusing” terms of service. 

And the company is pulling any and all apps which look problematic, according to multiple app developers.

“Free Trial”

Forbes noted in a previous report that most subscription-based apps on the App Store feature a prominent “Free Trial” button, with tiny print detailing the subscription terms below it inside the app. In most cases, customers looking to partake of simple Free Trial offers end up tapping this flashy button and, unwittingly, locking themselves into an expensive and difficult-to-cancel recurring subscription that can end up costing hundreds of dollars per year.

“It seems they are automatically pulling any and every non-big-name app that has a high IAS [in-app subscription revenue],” said Albert Renshaw, a developer who reported his app being pulled in a Facebook post cited by Forbes.

A copy of the email which Apple sent to Renshaw regarding his app being pulled is shown below, clearly stating that his app is in violation of the company’s App Store Review Guidelines.

Free Trial App Store Subscription

What’s most interesting is that amid all the controversy, Apple hasn’t publicly commented on the matter or its policies, and its App Store Review Guidelines haven’t been updated in months.. Back in June, however, the company added language to them clearly stating that these exact practices are disallowed.

“Apps that attempt to trick users into purchasing a subscription under false pretenses or engage in bait-and-switch practices will be removed from the App Store and you may be removed from the Apple Developer Program,” the company states.

Renshaw is now in the process of re-submitting his $4.99-per-week utility app, complete with a revised payment screen that’s ostensibly much less deceptive and places the recurring price front and center in bigger font. 

It remains to be seen, of course, if Renshaw’s revisions will be enough to get his app re-approved and republished to the App Store — but for him and so many other devs who’ve built subscription apps, Cupertino’s decision to crack down is certain to serve as a wake-up call. 

And hopefully, in light of these policy changes, customers won’t have to worry about being deceived or misled in the future since they’ll know, right up-front, what they’re singing up for.

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