Bulletins

Apple may soon make it harder to opt out of subscription price hikes

Apple is piloting a feature with Disney+ that allows it to raise subscription prices without asking users to opt in.

An image of the Apple App Store icon on an iPhone.

If you subscribe to a service through the iOS App Store, you may see automatic subscription price increases without the chance to opt in.

Photo: James Yarema via Unsplash
Apple is piloting a new feature that would allow app developers to raise subscription prices without requiring users to opt in. Instead, iPhone users will have to specifically opt out of those increases. It sounds like a win for developers, who can count on fewer users opting out, but seems like a bizarre choice for Apple, a company that historically emphasizes transparency for users (see: app ad-tracking).

Some Disney+ subscribers noticed something was off when the streaming service announced that a price increase would take effect on April 19, 2022. iPhone users are typically prompted with two options when a developer increases prices: to accept the price increase, or to manage their subscription. But when the price increase notification popped up on the iPhones of Disney+ subscribers in Europe last month, they didn’t have so many options. The only button they could tap said “OK.” Beneath that was some fine print telling them they could review their subscription.

Apple confirmed to TechCrunch that the new language on the alerts was not a fluke. The company is piloting a program with Disney and other companies “across various app categories” to change the way in-app purchases operate. An Apple spokesperson acknowledged that the new prompt for Disney+ subscribers would be out of compliance with Apple’s current documentation, were it not part of the pilot program.

The company did not offer any additional details, however, and also did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment.

The pilot raises a lot of questions. For one, it’s unclear whether there are limits on how high developers can raise subscription prices automatically. Raising a subscription by $1, after all, would be less of a financial hit for users than a bad actor automatically raising subscriptions by large sums. It’s also unclear how much notice app developers would need to give users, if any notice at all.

Apple has been in hot water for how it brokers payments through the App Store for years. The company takes up to 30% commission of in-app payments and does not allow developers to link to third-party billing options. Regulators in the EU and South Korea have targeted Apple for these policies, which they see as monopolizing the market. Companies like Epic have also tried to fight the so-called “app store tax” in court.

But by creating a feature to increase subscription prices automatically, Apple may be trying to win back developers’ favor — and take a cut of those subscriptions as a bonus.

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