Apple has updated its App Store rules to allow subscriptions to auto-renew without your express consent, even if the developer has increased the monthly or yearly price. Before the rule change, users had to manually opt into a subscription renewal if it came with a price increase; That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case now, although you’ll still be notified of the price change before it takes place. Apple says it’s making the change to avoid the situation where users unintentionally lose access to a subscription because they missed an opt-in message.
According to Apple’s Monday night post, there are certain conditions developers must meet if they want to offer what the company calls “a price increase for auto-renewing subscriptions.” It can only be so big for starters — Apple’s rules state that if a developer increases a weekly or monthly subscription price by more than 50 percent, and that difference is more than $5, they don’t qualify. With an annual subscription, developers can still increase the price by 50 percent, but no more than $50 without requiring an opt-in.
- “A $100 per year subscription could go up $50 per year without requiring an opt-in, but not $51 per year”
Here are some examples of what that might look like: Let’s say I have a subscription that costs $60 per year. The developers could bump it up to $90 ($60 plus 50 percent) and it would automatically renew without me having to sign up. In theory, if I have a monthly subscription that costs $15 and the developers wanted to bump it up to $22, I’d have to go for it — it’s less than a 50 percent increase, but it’s over the $5 cap -Dollar.
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 literally state that consent is required if the price increase:
The pricing difference exceeds approximately $5 per period for non-annual subscriptions or $50 per year for annual subscriptions.
If you read this literally, that’s what it means 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 to do. We have sought clarification on this point and will update if we receive any.
The price can only increase once a year without requiring an opt-in, which should help prevent rogue apps from slowly increasing their price by a dollar or two every two months. Apple also says the price increase must be “permissible under local law,” though that was probably a given.
If any of these conditions are not met, you must still opt-in for the price increase, otherwise your subscription will expire. Apple says users will be warned about upcoming automatic renewals with price changes via “email, push notifications, and in-app messages.” It’s worth noting that you could easily flip Apple’s logic on its head: if users missed these renewal opt-in notifications, wouldn’t they also miss these new price change alerts? But it sounds like they catch your eye relatively directly.
We saw evidence that this change was coming – last month, TechCrunch reported that Apple appeared to be testing this change with a Disney Plus price increase. Also developer Max Seelemann posted a screenshot in March shows what one of the notifications looked like, although it’s not clear if that’s the final design. At the time, Apple confirmed it was “testing a new commerce feature that we plan to launch very soon,” and said it would provide details. It looks like that day is here.
The March screenshot shows that next to the “OK” button there is a link that says “to learn more or cancel, check your subscription.” Apple’s Monday post says it “also notifies users on how to view, manage, and cancel subscriptions if preferred,” a promise that this link would appear to deliver.
“I want to know where every dollar went, and this change makes that a little bit more difficult”
In my view, Apple is definitely making a trade-off between consumer friendliness and convenience. There are probably a lot of people who will be glad they no longer have to subscribe just because the price went up a dollar and they missed an opt-in prompt.
Personally, though, I like to know where every dollar is going – and since I almost always go for annual subscriptions, it seems like I have to be on the lookout for apps that could go up in price by a fairly significant amount (This $60 subscription wasn’t a hypothetical example ). There is a simple solution for this: let users choose whether they want the auto-renewal rate increases or not rather than opting for them. In my opinion, that would just be a toggle in the App Store settings that says something like “Always ask to opt-in on price increases,” and turning it on would make it seem like that change never happened.
- Apple didn’t immediately respond The edge‘s question if there are any plans to add such a switch.
Or, if Apple really wanted to be consumer-friendly, it could make subscriptions not auto-renew by default. As my colleague Sean Hollister pointed out in his article on how Apple could show it cares about App Store users, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has a relevant quote (although he was talking about privacy at the time):
Ask her. ask her every time. Let them tell you to stop asking them when they get tired of you asking them.
With this rule change, Apple has taken that a step further.