00:04:51 ◼ ► And these devices have increasingly impressive and more capabilities. And one of these things that they get is a magical technology called Touch ID, which does away with the need to enter in our Apple ID password every time we want to buy something.
00:05:09 ◼ ► And if at first this was not necessarily the intention of this technology, but it's something that Apple does. And we say, "This is great, Apple. But can we use this for in-app purchases, too?
00:07:01 ◼ ► I really wish there was a way that I could take some of this money that I'm getting all the time from all my in-app purchases, my subscriptions, with my app that has all these great star rankings.
00:08:31 ◼ ► And the awkward moral of these kinds of things is that any time Apple has given us anything, inevitably people find a way to use it to make terrible things and abuse it to make scams to rip people off.
00:08:46 ◼ ► And the reason I tell this story is there's a current situation in the App Store that I just think it drew my eye because of how all of these things that Apple has done to improve our lives over the years makes it possible for people to do the scam.
00:09:07 ◼ ► And the way this scam works is you find an app that was once successful or has at least been in the App Store for a long time, ranks reasonably well for search, you buy it from someone for who knows how much, you use the app transfer mechanism.
00:09:22 ◼ ► When you do the transfer, you keep their review stars. Then you change the app so that it is full of in-app purchases and ideally subscriptions, lots of subscriptions for kind of absurd amounts of money where it's like, "I'm going to charge you $5 a week for this app that, I don't know, is a bubble level or contains backgrounds that you can set as your wallpaper or something like that."
00:09:47 ◼ ► It fills with those. I'm going to buy tons and tons of search ads, like just all the money with search ads, and I'm going to try and just pour money into that so that I get a relatively high number of people downloading the app.
00:10:06 ◼ ► If they have a touch ID phone, you can do all kinds of really fun tricks where because you make it so that they can't easily get out of the app, you just keep showing them the subscription prompt.
00:10:16 ◼ ► So what do they have to do? Well, they want to go to the home button to get out of the app. If you press the home button with your thumb and you have a touch ID phone, well, you just bought the subscription, whether or not you realize that or not.
00:10:26 ◼ ► This is the scam that is currently in the app store. I don't know how broad this is. I've seen it myself several times with competitors for me. This is an app that this is a situation that Becky ran into.
00:10:36 ◼ ► It's just kind of sad to me that it is made possible by all of these technologies and all of these things that Apple did for our benefit that we asked for, and then someone will find a way to make it terrible.
00:10:49 ◼ ► I think thinking about that has made me tremendously sympathetic to Apple and sympathetic for how difficult a position they find themselves in because we will ask for things that will make us better and that for the ethical moral developer are tools for good for making more sustainable businesses,
00:11:09 ◼ ► for making things more and better relationships with our customers that make a better user experience, like in many ways are so good. And then you combine them all together into a way that someone will always find a way to make it into something awful.
00:11:23 ◼ ► I mean, this is a combination of a bunch of different factors and problems and design flaws that make this particular scam possible and make it effective. And this scam, I feel like they could totally neutralize this scam or mostly neutralize this scam by a few minor changes.
00:11:41 ◼ ► Like, for instance, I think you should probably consider resetting the app summary rating when it changes ownership and also if it adds, removes, or changes what in-app purchases are available.
00:11:53 ◼ ► That seems like kind of an easy way to nip this in the bud. But the reality is that scams like this are always going to exist and are always going to be possible and are always going to be exploited.
00:12:12 ◼ ► So, of course, you're going to have a huge attack surface there for scams and fraud. And Apple has also inserted themselves by doing app review, by requiring all iOS software to run through app review and to be in the app store and not having side loading or anything.
00:12:43 ◼ ► When one is possible, it's their responsibility to crack down on it, to filter out as much as possible during app review, and to whatever degree it is not possible for that, to be actively policing the app store for this kind of stuff, for these kind of scams and turning them down.
00:12:59 ◼ ► And also, it's their responsibility to try to design the UI and the purchase flows and things like that in the first place to be more resilient to fraud attempts, to be easier for customers, to spot fraud and deal with it and avoid it.
00:13:16 ◼ ► And some of those things Apple is doing a good job on. Some of them they're not. And I feel like one of the reasons we keep getting these scams, you know, this is one of many app store scams and I think the ones since subscription billings have been available to all apps, I think they've gotten worse.
00:13:37 ◼ ► And it's tricky because Apple makes a lot of money from these. So there's also a cynical angle of anything that causes people to feed more money into the app store kind of against their will.
00:13:47 ◼ ► Yeah, some percentage of those will call Apple and get refunds, but I bet it's not most. Even if it's just some, that's still a ton of money going through the app store that customers didn't intend.
00:13:58 ◼ ► And Apple gets 30% of all that. So Apple is really making a lot of money from these mistakes. And they also have a strong monetary incentive to keep the purchase flow smooth and easy and as few steps as possible because they don't want people to be road blocked when they're trying to spend money.
00:14:17 ◼ ► Because again, not only is it a bad experience, but again, Apple makes money from all this. So there's a lot of different facts here that like Apple has a pretty strong cynical financial incentive to not slow this down too much.
00:14:37 ◼ ► And throughout the last few years, or maybe even longer, as many of these scams have become visible in the app store where you'll have like, I think a more common scam is, which is kind of part of this, is like an app that prompts you for subscription for a feature that, you know, it's like a weather app and it's like, "Oh, subscription, free trial, just start now, free trial."
00:15:01 ◼ ► And a little tiny somewhere on the screen there is like, you know, "We'll renew at $12.99 a week." Or something. And it's like, you know, some price, almost always per week, because I believe that's the shortest subscription interval Apple will let you do.
00:15:23 ◼ ► And so they would make it some price that you would assume would be the price per month or per year, and it was actually per week, so you're spending, you know, four and a quarter times more than you might have thought or more.
00:15:32 ◼ ► And then they auto renew really quickly after that week, and you get billed, and, you know, whatever percentage of those, you know, will not get refunded, the app developer just gets to keep.
00:15:42 ◼ ► And it's this kind of exorbitant price for a fairly simple thing. You know, and as you mentioned, Dave, the Touch ID sensor being like, the home, being in the home button kind of makes people accidentally buy things by Touch ID when they're trying to just hit the home button to get out of the app.
00:16:04 ◼ ► The in-app purchase subscription confirmation sheet is a terrible design. It is not clear at all. You know, the whole purchase sheet since whatever it was that that design was introduced a few years back, it looks kind of like a store receipt.
00:16:30 ◼ ► And, you know, again, I think this is design over function here. But, you know, it's a, it doesn't clearly tell people like, hey, you're about to spend, you know, X dollars per week or per month on this thing.
00:16:46 ◼ ► I would like to see things like the sheet showing you what your annual price will be. No matter what the subscription term is, I'd like the sheet to say, you know, whatever the price they want to show, fine. But then like below that, say, you know, three hundred forty nine dollars a year.
00:17:02 ◼ ► Right. Like whatever, whatever it be like, you know, tell people what their annual price will be. Like give them some kind of normalized or at least monthly. Give them some kind of like normalized time interval that always shows so they can have some better idea of what it is.
00:17:14 ◼ ► I would also suggest that app review should be extra critical and take an extra strong look at anything that has a one week interval. Because, you know, I mean, if it were to me, I would eliminate one week subscription pricing because that that would really hurt this kind of scam big time.
00:17:31 ◼ ► And there aren't that many uses for it. I think like, what is it? The New York Times? Is there anything else that builds per week? Like it's it's not it's not a very common interval. Usually when it is being used, being used kind of scamily, you know.
00:17:44 ◼ ► So anyway, I'd get rid of the one week interval, but that's just me. But anyway, like they the biggest I think, you know, the biggest way Apple's falling down on this is not that some of this stuff gets past app review.
00:18:05 ◼ ► To me, the big thing here, the big failure is that Apple doesn't seem to be policing the app store like they don't like. It seems like almost every time there's some kind of big scam, you can just go to like the top paid chart or the top grossing chart, whatever it is.
00:18:20 ◼ ► And you can see all these apps clear as day. They're not hard to find. And if these are all the things that are top grossing or if there's some clear trend in the top grossing chart, so often it seems like it takes blog posts from the community to bring this to Apple's attention.
00:18:40 ◼ ► Shouldn't Apple be watching their own store after app review, after the fact? Shouldn't people be monitoring, "Hey, what apps are making a lot of money all of a sudden? And is there anything fishy about them?"
00:18:59 ◼ ► Yeah, and I think there's an element. It's like if you imagine policing as the metaphor for what they should be doing here, it's the difference between having a checkpoint on the way into a neighborhood where you're going into a neighborhood and say they had a security gate on the outside.
00:19:19 ◼ ► And there's someone there who kind of checks your credentials, maybe searches your car, makes sure everything's good to go, and then lets you in. And if that's the only level of security that you have in your neighborhood, that's not that great in the sense that versus having a policeman who, say, strolls up and down the street every now and then and just makes sure that everything's okay.
00:19:51 ◼ ► There's that sense that—and I think, too, what I would love to see that is mostly because I understand how difficult of a thing this is because there is so much of it that is hard to—where is the line between something that is a scam and something that is just expensive?
00:20:09 ◼ ► There's a certain amount of judgment that has to go into that, and so I understand that that's awkward. But at the same time, there comes a point in most of these apps where it becomes clear that this has crossed that line, but they're not necessarily looking at it or looking for it.
00:20:29 ◼ ► And I appreciate that that's difficult, but hopefully this is something that I want ultimately, too. I would be sad if Apple became reluctant to give us new tools and opportunities inside of the App Store because of the fear of how they can be abused,
00:20:51 ◼ ► which I'm sure is a big part of why many of these improvements and things that have come over the years are, from our perspective, in some ways, slow and very methodical, and we wish they had happened sooner.
00:21:01 ◼ ► Because I imagine Apple is very aware that this is how it's going to go, and I would hope in some ways, though, that the way to deal with that isn't necessarily to not create the tool. It's to have active enforcement on the other side to tamp down issues before they reach out into customers in the first place.
00:21:19 ◼ ► We are brought to you this week by Linode. With Linode, you can instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode cloud. You can get a server running in just seconds with your choice of Linux distro, resources, and node location.
00:21:30 ◼ ► Linode has hundreds of thousands of customers, and they're all looked after by their incredible 24/7 support team. If you ever run into any problems, just drop them an email, give them a call, or just chat over IRC and the Linode community if that's easier for you, whatever suits you best.
00:21:51 ◼ ► Then I have their new management panel up at cloud.linode.com. It is a single-page application built using the cutting-edge ReactJS stack, and it's backed entirely by their public API, and it's open source.
00:22:15 ◼ ► So, they have pricing options to suit everyone. Plans start at 1 gig of RAM for just $5 a month, and they offer lots of specialty things above that as well, things like high memory plans, dedicated CPU plans, and more.
00:23:04 ◼ ► Right, like, 'cause again, you know, who knows what that means? Different people have different opinions, and it puts Apple in a weird position to try to judge things that are so subjective.
00:23:58 ◼ ► Yeah, 'cause I think, ultimately I think the things that come to mind is that in two ways, whether or not something's a scam is ultimately in how the end customer feels about the transaction.
00:24:30 ◼ ► So the biggest things that I think that Apple can do though, yeah, it's like on the, there's the upfront side of making it clear that if someone is parting with money, they are doing it with as much information, with as much clarity, with as much sort of, I think maybe intentionality is probably the best word for it.
00:24:50 ◼ ► That they are doing it on purpose, they know what they're getting, they're not going to be surprised by a charge in the future, they're not going to be surprised that they just spent $300 a year on a step counting app.
00:25:10 ◼ ► But they need to be doing it intentionally and not just accidentally or because they were tricked or because it's like the thing that I see a lot now is like the free trial button is just to continue, which then starts the, which starts a trial which, like there's lots of things that can just become very intentionally misleading or at least, or even are benignly misleading.
00:25:53 ◼ ► It's this very old kind of weird web form that you go through and like, select the thing that you had a problem with and request a thing and it goes to a person and that person can then, like may or may not process a refund.
00:26:05 ◼ ► It's like, I don't understand why this is this where it's like, any purchase seems like within like, within like a day or two should probably be refundable, like, just make it refundable.
00:26:25 ◼ ► And it takes the wind out of a lot of this kind of scam because if you make it easy for people to request their money back because they feel scammed, then the person ultimately doesn't end up with the money.
00:26:34 ◼ ► It takes sort of the financial incentive out of a lot of this because the money just never goes to anybody, so in which case if they're spending huge amounts of money on search ads and they're not actually able to sort of recoup that by scamming people, then they won't be doing it.
00:26:49 ◼ ► This is one of these things that there are many difficult things with refunds because what if someone uses a huge amount, you know, they're buying something that has a financial cost or uses a resource and they go and they use it and they use all this resource and then they ask for the money back.
00:27:04 ◼ ► And it's like, sure. I get that that's awkward. Just take that into account when you're building your system and if you make a perfect refund window of a day or two, it's entirely possible as a developer to plan around that, to expect that this is going to happen, and to not end up in a terrible place as a result.
00:27:25 ◼ ► Yeah, and didn't Windows Mobile or Android even do that? I think one of the other platforms did. I believe Android has a, I think it's a 24-hour return refund policy on any purchase, which I think perfectly seems very reasonable.
00:27:39 ◼ ► Yeah, and this is another thing, going back to UI or process things, one of the reasons why subscription scams were so popular in the first place is that it has been so historically difficult to find out how and where in the UI to cancel a subscription.
00:27:56 ◼ ► It's really hard. They've made a few little gains here and there that make it a little bit easier now, but that's been hard. You mentioned refunds. I'm hearing from people now that, I'll occasionally get an email from somebody saying, "Hey, I bought Premium, but it wasn't what I wanted," or whatever, "Can I have a refund?"
00:28:11 ◼ ► And every time I have to tell them, "I'm sorry, I can't issue you a refund, but here's where you can get one from Apple," and I listen to the iMore article that tells you about App Store refunds.
00:29:02 ◼ ► And they need to be better policing the App Store after the fact, watching for scams, and actually having whoever's responsible for watching for scams have some input into the UI design of the purchase flow and the managing subscriptions interface.
00:29:18 ◼ ► Yeah, and I think too, because I would love for them to continue to feel empowered and capable of improving the App Store and making it better, and not being so worried that when they give us these great tools that we're going to immediately turn around to them and abuse them.
00:29:33 ◼ ► Because I understand that's really awkward, and I'm very sympathetic for that. But I think appropriate enforcement, appropriate design would open up their ability to just improve the App Store and continue to make it a better and better place, which is ultimately what I want, and what I think, hopefully, what Apple wants too.