Changes to Apple’s App Store rules mean that apps can now auto-renew subscriptions without asking users for permission.
The worrying change will affect consumers on all sorts of apps as well as businesses that use the 235,000 business apps available on the App store – although project management software applications, as well as other programs that take payment independently of Apple's platform, will be unaffected.
The move means that keeping on top of your subscriptions – and checking your emails for changes – has never been more important.
Apple’s Charging Changes
Before the changes, when an app that requires a subscription wants to increase that price, subscribers have the option to “opt in” (or opt out) prior to the price increase being rolled out.
According to Apple’s Monday evening update regarding the update, “under certain specific conditions and with advance user notice, developers may also offer an auto-renewable subscription price increase, without the user needing to take action and without interrupting the service.”
There are some limitations on exactly what Apps can do. For instance, such a price increase can only occur once a year.
Another stipulation is that the price increase cannot exceed $5 or 50% of the subscription price, or $50 and 50% for an annual subscription.
The iPhone maker says users will always be notified via some channel of communication about an increase, as well as how to manage their subscriptions.
Will this move lead to new auto-renewal laws?
The final limitation Apple puts on the new change is that it can and will be limited by state legislation. Lots of states have their own auto-renewal laws (ARLs), which affect everything from magazine subscriptions to app downloads.
California’s auto-renewal laws, for example, have just changed, with new measures set to become law on July 1st.
After that date, businesses selling plans that automatically renew send out notices to subscribers at least 16 days before the renewal date reminding them that such a change is taking place.
Apple’s new policy seems to be in line with even this law, as long as customers are notified that “the amount of the charge may change, if that is the case, and the amount to which the charge will change, if known.”
If the fallout from Apple’s change is significant, it could usher in a new round of ARLs with a renewed focus on price increases.
What about scam apps?
You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking this is a bit of a recipe for disaster.
If Apple’s effectively saying apps can up prices and auto-renew subscriptions, won’t this pave the way for scammers, who’ll start prices low and suddenly hike them, sneaking unsuspecting users onto higher-priced subscriptions in the process?
You’d hope that the limitations Apple has put in place – including caps on how much those prices can be raised – will dissuade con artists from getting in on the act.
How this plays out is anyone’s guess – but it’s difficult to see how this won’t create an increasing pool of dissatisfied customers being billed for things they didn’t realize they were being charged for, scams or no scams.
Takeaway: Keep on Top of Your Subscriptions
Apple’s move, to put it lightly, isn’t very consumer-friendly – or at least, it's not the most consumer-friendly approach to end-user subscription management.
As several commentators have pointed out, the best tactic would simply be to ask people if they want to renew their subscriptions.
Luckily, this won’t affect a lot of big-ticket items usually bought by businesses like project management software, which will require you to purchase an account you can then use to log into a free app – companies in this industry like monday.com won’t take payment through the mac or iOS app store.
However, it does mean that you’re going to need to keep on top of your subscriptions, whether you’re a business or a consumer. There’s no worse thing than realizing you’ve accidentally foregone the opportunity to cancel and instead renewed for a year.