Apple: Subscription apps Levy you more Money without Questioning

Apple holds updated its App Store rules to create it so subscriptions can auto-renew without your explicit permission, even if the creator has raised the monthly or annual cost.

Before the rule modification, users would have to manually opt into a subscription renewal if it arrived with an expense bump; now, that won’t necessarily be the issue, though you’ll still be informed about the price change before it happens.

Apple says it’s pushing the transition to help avoid users unintentionally losing access to a subscription because they skipped an opt-in message.

According to Apple’s Monday evening post, there are specific prerequisites that developers will have to follow if they want to deliver what the company is calling “an auto-renewable subscription price boost.” First, it can only be so big — Apple’s rules say that if a developer expands a weekly or monthly subscription price by more than 50 percent, and that disparity is over $5, it doesn’t qualify. For an annual subscription, devs can still raise the price by 50 percent but can’t lift it more than USD 50 without requiring an opt-in.

Here are some examples of what that could look like: let’s articulate you have a subscription that’s $60 a year. The developers could increase it to $90 ($60 plus 50 percent), and it would auto-renew without me having to opt-in. On the other pointer, if you have a monthly subscription that’s $15, and the developers wanted to raise it to $22, you’d have to opt into that — it’s less than a 50 percent increase but over the $5 cap.

However, Apple’s wording leaves things a bit unclear: what if there’s an app that costs $10 a year and goes up to $60 a year? Apple’s rules say, verbatim, that consent is needed if the price increase is:

More than 50% of the current price and the price difference exceeds approximately $5 United States Dollar (USD) per period for non-annual subscriptions or USD 50 per year for annual subscriptions.

We are reading that literally; both conditions would have to be true to require an opt-in. But the example scenario seems so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe that’s what Apple intends. We’ve reached out for clarification on this point and will update you if we receive any.

The price can only be raised once per year without requiring an opt-in, which should help prevent scammy apps from slowly increasing their price by a buck or two every other month. Apple also says the price increase has to be “permissible by local law,” though that one was probably a given.

If any of those conditions aren’t met, you’ll still have to opt-in to the price increase. Otherwise, your subscription will lapse. Apple says users will be warned about upcoming automatic renewals with price changes by “email, push notifications, and in-app messaging.” Of course, you could quickly turn Apple’s logic on its head: if users missed those renewal opt-in notices, wouldn’t they also ignore these new price change warnings? But it does sound like they’ll be relatively in your face.

We’ve seen evidence that this change was coming — last month; Apple appeared to be testing this change with a Disney Plus price increase. In March, developer Max Seelemann also posted a screenshot showing what one of the notifications looked like, though it’s not clear whether this is the final design. At the time, Apple confirmed that it was “piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon” and said it would provide details. It looks like that day is here.

The screenshot from March shows that, near the “OK” button, a link says, “to learn more or cancel, review your subscription.” Apple’s post on Monday says that it “will also notify users of how to view, manage, and cancel subscriptions if preferred,” a promise that that link would seemingly fulfill.

Apple’s making a trade-off here between consumer friendliness and convenience. There are probably many people who will be happy that they won’t have to go and re-subscribe to a thing just because the price went up by a buck and they missed an opt-in prompt.

Personally, though, we like to know where every dollar is going — and since we almost always opt for annual subscriptions. So we’ll have to be on the lookout for apps that could be going up in price by a pretty significant sum (that $60 subscription wasn’t a hypothetical example). There is an easy fix to this: let users pick whether or not they want the auto-renewing price increases instead of deciding for them. In our mind, that’d be a toggle in the App Store settings that says something like “Always ask for opt-in if price increases,” and turning it on would make it like this change never happened.