Sneaky subscriptions are plaguing the App Store

Subscriptions have become a booming business for app developers, who represent $ 10.6 billion in consumer spending in the App Store in 2017, and are ready to grow to $ 75.7 billion by 2022. But Along with this healthy growth, several scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions to trick users into enrolling in costly and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with the design and flow of their application, making promises of "free trials" that become only a matter of days, and other deceptive tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on their hands if they do not reign in these scammers more quickly.

However, the company's focus in recent times has been more focused on getting developers to test subscriptions, even holding "secret" meetings where it evangelizes the business model that is making a lot of money for developers (and therefore to Apple). Meanwhile, a good number of bad actor applications have been allowed to thrive.

The applications of higher collection of utilities are the worst criminals

Today, most of the applications of higher collection in Apple's App Store They are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment applications or games. But when you overcome the market leaders (applications such as Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc.) and you fall into the top hundred in the Top Grossing box, another type of application appears: Utilities.

How are the applications? As readers of QR codes, document scanners, translators and weather applications that accumulate so much money? Especially when some of its utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question of whether some application developers are trying to scam users of the App Store through subscriptions.

We & # 39; In many cases, it seems that this seems to be true.

After reading the critical reviews of major utilities, you will find customers complaining that the applications are too aggressive to push subscriptions (for example, through constant warnings). ), offer little functionality without updating, do not provide transparency on how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

Here are some examples. This is by no means a complete list, but rather a representative list, just to illustrate the problem. A recent article by Forbes lists many more, if you're curious.

Scanner application – This application No. 69 Top Grossing is accumulating a whopping $ 14.3 million per year for its Document Scan Utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It also has an incredible amount of customer feedback: almost 340,000 to date and a 4.7 star rating of 5. That will make most customers believe that this is a good and reliable application. But when you analyze the critical reviews, you will see some valid complaints.

Click on the application and you will be constantly asked to subscribe to a subscription that goes from $ 3.99 a week up to $ 4.99. per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription after the free trial starts at after only 3 days something that is detailed in the fine print, but is often omitted. Consumers clearly do not understand what they are accepting, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate that customers feel they were tricked into paying.

QR Code Reader – Forbes recently discovered that the QR Code Reader from TinyLab was fooling users with a ridiculous price of $ 156 Annual Subscription. This has now earned the application the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing in the App Store, and annual revenue of $ 5.3 million .

QR code scanner, via Forbes

Again, this "free" application starts pressing you to start a "free trial". And again, this trial version becomes a subscription after only 3 days . Can you imagine paying $ 156 per year for scanning QR codes – something that the iPhone camera application now does natively?

Weather Alarms – Rated 4 stars after hundreds of comments, this weather alert application seems to be practical But in reality, a "dark pattern" has been used to trick users to press a button that starts a free trial or register to subscribe. And it is working, for an amount of in one million annual revenues .

A full-screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons: try it for free or pay. The little "X" to close the ad does not even appear immediately! Users end up paying about $ 20 a month for weather alerts. That seems … excessive.

Legitimate developers have complained about this application for months, but Apple even presented it at its big screen at WWDC . (See the embedded video below.) It's amazing.)

* After speaking with Apple on this application, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store during the weekend.

Translate Assistant – The same developer of Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation application that promises instant translations in more than 100 languages ​​and has 4.7 stars after almost 4,000 ratings.

The application is also super aggressive about pushing your subscriptions. With each launch of the application, a presentation screen appears with three different boxes: 1 month ($ 12.99 / month), 12 months ($ 44.99 / year) or the "free trial", which converts users to an expensive plan of $ 7.99 / week after only 3 days .

Meanwhile, the option for "continue with a limited version" is in a small, gray text that is intentionally designed to be difficult to see.

The application is doing $ 1.3 million per year, per Sensor Tower data.

As you can see, the problem with many of these scam applications is that they capitalize on people who do not read the fine print, or allow the design of a application guide you to the right button to play. This type of tricks is nothing new, has been present on the web since the software was sold. It's just that, now, subscriptions are the best way to cheat.

These developers also know that most people, especially if they just downloaded a new application, will not subscribe immediately. So they push people to their "free trial" instead. But that "free trial" is really just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it immediately.

Many of these "free trials" are also converted almost immediately, which is another way developers are taking advantage. They do not give you time to think about that before they start charging.

"It's incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams," says David Barnard, founder and developer of Contrast. , whose applications include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. "This erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately affects Apple and the conscious developers who use subscriptions," he says.

Apple also buries subscription management

The problem of scam applications may not always be The failure of the App Store review. It is possible that fraudulent applications get into their tricks after the Apple App Review team approves them, making them more difficult to catch.

But at the moment, users have to take responsibility for canceling these clever subscriptions.

Unfortunately Apple does not make it as easy for users to access their subscriptions as it could be.

Compare Apple's design with Google Play, where the option to manage subscriptions is found in top-level navigation:

In the iPhone, several more touches and a little bit of Scrolling to get to the same area in the iOS Settings:

Previous: How to get subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click on the images to see larger ones)

In the App Store, you can navigate to the subscriptions with fewer touches, but not It is obvious how. First touch the icon of your profile on the top right of the home page, then your Apple ID, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. It is still buried more than necessary, considering how important it is to manage these automatic payments.

"I firmly believe that this is not the future we should aspire to in terms of user experience," says Denys Zhadanov, Readdle vice president, creators of Scanner Pro, Spark, PDF Expert and other productivity applications, talk about these fraudulent applications. "Apple as a platform, as an ecosystem, has always been a symbol of trust. That means that people can trust him for their personal and work needs, "he continues.

" The App Store has always been an excellent place, supervised and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I think the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right steps are taken to deal with the developers that cheat the system, "adds Zhadanov.

Today, most subscription-based businesses that thrive in The App Store comes from legitimate Developers, but they know that scammers can easily ruin the market for everyone involved, if they are allowed to continue, these scams can generate distrust in subscriptions in general.

In the worst case, Consumers can even go so far as to avoid downloading applications where subscriptions are offered as purchases within the application to protect themselves from scams.

For now, Apple relies heavily on reports from users and developers through reportaproblem.apple.com, a site that you probably do not know exists, to help you fight the scammers, you must do more.

In addition to facilitating access to your subscriptions, you also need to better control the productivity and utilities applications of "Top Grossing", especially if the value of the service is questionable and the 1-star revisions are specifically When mentioning problems such as " Deceptive billing "or other subscription tricks are mentioned.

Apple declined to comment on the subject, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions and insist that the applications are clear about prices. In other words, Apple has reasons to eliminate these fraudulent subscription applications, if it decides to focus more on this problem in the future.