Under the Radar

146: Ethical Monetization


00:00:00   Welcome to Under the Radar,

00:00:01   a show about independent iOS app development.

00:00:03   I'm Marco Arment.

00:00:05   - And I'm David Smith.

00:00:06   Under the Radar is never longer than 30 minutes,

00:00:08   so let's get started.

00:00:10   So this week, we wanted to talk a little bit about

00:00:15   a story that I think has been getting

00:00:17   a fair bit of traction and interest

00:00:19   just generally within our developer community right now,

00:00:21   and I think it's an important one to emphasize.

00:00:25   And this specifically, we're gonna talk about

00:00:27   the practice that seemed to have been kind of growing

00:00:30   over the last few months, maybe a year,

00:00:32   of sort of sneaky subscriptions or tricky ways

00:00:36   that people are using and kind of abusing

00:00:38   the subscription system in the app store to be,

00:00:43   I think it's fair to say, overcharging,

00:00:45   or in some ways almost like fraudulently charging people

00:00:48   fairly substantial sums of money

00:00:50   for things that don't really seem like

00:00:53   they should be worth that.

00:00:54   There is, I think this got most prominent

00:00:57   with an article that was on TechCrunch

00:00:59   where they kind of went through a couple of these,

00:01:02   and you get these examples of these

00:01:04   seemingly very simple utilities.

00:01:07   There is a QR code scanner, which by the way

00:01:09   is something that's built into the phone

00:01:11   that people are being charged $20 a year to use.

00:01:17   And there's one that's a bunch of weather apps,

00:01:20   there's scanner software, all these things that,

00:01:25   these sort of utility functions,

00:01:27   many of which are actually built into the system

00:01:29   that now have subscriptions.

00:01:31   - $20 a year, that's not even a very egregious example.

00:01:37   What a lot of these have been doing is

00:01:39   they'll charge $100 a month for weather,

00:01:44   or something like that where it's like

00:01:46   they're taking advantage of the subscription system

00:01:48   and the way the purchase sheet is designed and presented

00:01:51   and small print and free trials

00:01:54   to basically trick people into very, very high priced

00:01:59   subscriptions for things they didn't really intend to

00:02:02   or that wouldn't normally command

00:02:04   anywhere near that kind of price.

00:02:06   - Yeah, and it's, and honestly,

00:02:09   I was probably gonna get into this in a little bit,

00:02:10   but I think it's probably fair to say

00:02:12   a big part of why this works,

00:02:14   why this scam is even possible,

00:02:16   has to do with the way that subscriptions are implemented

00:02:19   in the App Store right now.

00:02:21   That I think, and that's not to say that I think,

00:02:23   and we'll get into this around the ethics

00:02:25   around these kind of things,

00:02:26   like the developers are certainly

00:02:27   sort of responsible for this,

00:02:30   but I think the way that Apple has built subscriptions

00:02:32   into the App Store is partly enabling for this type of thing.

00:02:37   Managing subscriptions is weird as a user.

00:02:41   It's like where do you go to manage your subscriptions?

00:02:44   Well, you tap on your face in the top right corner

00:02:47   of one of the tabs, the Today tab,

00:02:50   which seems like the Today tab

00:02:52   should have nothing to do with your profile,

00:02:53   so that's where you go.

00:02:54   You go tap on your face,

00:02:55   and then you have to scroll down past the first,

00:02:58   like I have an iPhone 10, which is a pretty long screen,

00:03:01   and the Manage Subscriptions option is well down below that,

00:03:05   that if you may not know is there,

00:03:07   if you didn't think scroll, then you tap on that,

00:03:10   and then you'll finally get to the place

00:03:11   that you can manage your subscriptions.

00:03:13   That's not great.

00:03:16   It's kind of confusing, and if you don't know,

00:03:18   if you didn't know where it was,

00:03:20   I don't think you would naturally find it.

00:03:22   It's not like an easy, obvious place.

00:03:24   It's not accessible from the Settings app,

00:03:27   which I think a lot of people might think would be the case.

00:03:30   This is sort of helped slightly by Apple sending emails

00:03:33   that are letting you know when your subscription's

00:03:35   gonna renew and what it's gonna cost,

00:03:37   and that kind of stuff might help,

00:03:39   but I think it's one of these things

00:03:41   that Apple clearly has indicated specifically and explicitly

00:03:46   that they want subscriptions to be a bigger part

00:03:49   of the way that apps are monetized on the App Store,

00:03:52   but the physical infrastructure and the rules around that

00:03:56   don't seem to have caught up to that,

00:03:58   where I would imagine that it seems the kind of thing

00:04:01   that there should be a system-wide control

00:04:04   that every app that implements subscriptions has to use

00:04:07   and has to make visible in the application

00:04:10   that you can tap and you can manage your subscription from.

00:04:13   There's all manner of things like that where it's easy,

00:04:16   they make it super easy to sign up

00:04:18   and then kind of hard to cancel,

00:04:21   which is classic, which I guess is good business sense,

00:04:25   but is kind of tricky, especially in these cases

00:04:29   where you start to have apps that are taking advantage

00:04:31   of that asymmetry to do really dodgy things.

00:04:36   - It's also like there are certain details about it

00:04:38   that are just incredibly unintuitive and hostile,

00:04:40   like when you delete an app, it does not cancel

00:04:43   any auto-renewing subscriptions that belong to that app.

00:04:46   Now, there are reasons why you might want that,

00:04:48   like if you have multiple devices

00:04:51   and you have a Netflix subscription

00:04:54   and you delete from one device

00:04:56   and it doesn't cancel your Netflix subscription

00:04:58   because you have other devices, that kind of makes sense,

00:05:01   but I don't think that should be the default behavior.

00:05:04   And I think if you delete an app,

00:05:06   it might at least tell you by a dialogue box

00:05:08   that hey, this won't cancel the subscriptions,

00:05:11   but nobody reads dialogue boxes.

00:05:14   When you delete an app and you see a box,

00:05:15   you just hit okay, okay, okay, okay, okay,

00:05:17   like you just go through whatever,

00:05:18   yeah, I want to delete this app.

00:05:19   So a lot of these apps, by using the free trial system,

00:05:22   they will start a free trial subscription

00:05:25   that people are like okay, yeah, I'll try this for free,

00:05:26   I want to scan my QR code and I don't know

00:05:29   if the built-in camera app can just do that.

00:05:30   And so they'll say okay, yeah, sure, free trial,

00:05:35   then they'll think to themselves,

00:05:36   oh, I'll just delete the app and then I won't be charged.

00:05:38   And then so they use it, they delete the app,

00:05:41   and then a week later, they're charged.

00:05:43   And the design of the sheet,

00:05:45   of the in-app purchase sheet even,

00:05:47   is also pretty misleading with a lot of the stuff.

00:05:50   Like they tweeted a little bit recently over time,

00:05:53   but still the look of an in-app purchase sheet,

00:05:58   whether it's gonna charge you like $5 once

00:06:04   or $500 a week, it looks pretty much the same.

00:06:09   Like the differences are very minor,

00:06:11   and it's on that in-app purchase sheet,

00:06:14   like that kind of Apple Pay type sheet,

00:06:16   now that's full of a lot of small text,

00:06:19   all of which is in all capitals.

00:06:22   So it's not a very readable design,

00:06:24   it's not a good design for clearly communicating,

00:06:27   unambiguously, like this is a recurring thing

00:06:31   that you're gonna pay unless you go through

00:06:33   these hoops to cancel, and also,

00:06:36   I think they're kind of doing themselves a disservice here

00:06:39   by making every interval look the same.

00:06:43   So if I'm being charged $500 a week,

00:06:47   or $500 a year, that's a pretty big difference.

00:06:51   And yet the sheet doesn't look very different.

00:06:53   I think there's lots of different ways

00:06:55   they can make this easier and better.

00:06:57   Number one would be that the prompt when you delete an app

00:07:01   that has auto-renewing subscriptions,

00:07:04   like the default-styled button in that prompt

00:07:07   should be cancel those subscriptions,

00:07:09   and it should just do it with that one tap,

00:07:11   maybe have you enter your iTunes password or whatever,

00:07:14   but that's it, that should be one quick action

00:07:16   on that sheet that should be automatic.

00:07:18   And secondly, I think the in-app purchase confirmation sheet

00:07:23   should be better designed, it should be more clearly

00:07:25   designed to look less like a receipt that nobody reads,

00:07:29   and to look more like a clear purchase agreement here

00:07:32   that clearly specifies in readable formats

00:07:36   with readable typography how much you're gonna be charged

00:07:39   and when, and I would even go even further

00:07:42   and say to help differentiate the frequency issue,

00:07:45   I would say that sheet should be redesigned to say

00:07:48   like this is equivalent to X dollars per year.

00:07:52   So if it's an annual subscription, fine,

00:07:54   this is 10 bucks a year.

00:07:55   But if it's a weekly subscription,

00:07:56   you can say this is $3,000 a year, like whatever it is,

00:07:58   like that should be clear to people.

00:08:01   Because right now, the reason these apps work this way

00:08:04   at all, the reason this scam has worked so much

00:08:07   is because everything is not very clear to the user

00:08:10   and it's very difficult to cancel these subscriptions.

00:08:13   - Yeah, and like there's so many aspects of this

00:08:17   that I think just like more broadly in the app store

00:08:19   that are so, they give me such unease where it's like,

00:08:23   this is the most recent thing, but like,

00:08:25   and to Apple's credit, I think they've gone through

00:08:28   since this became a thing and it sounds like

00:08:30   they're doing an audit of subscription-based applications

00:08:33   and like, are they doing the right thing

00:08:35   in terms of trying to deal with the issue

00:08:38   as it stands today?

00:08:39   I'm not sure what they're going to do going forward

00:08:41   to kind of keep it from happening in the future

00:08:43   because there's always gonna be this case where,

00:08:46   you know, this is, and it reminds me of,

00:08:47   in the original days of subscriptions,

00:08:50   they were very limiting in what apps

00:08:53   could offer subscriptions.

00:08:54   - Yeah.

00:08:55   - And I remember specifically complaining about that.

00:08:57   Like it seemed like, oh, you know,

00:08:59   like you had to have some kind of service

00:09:01   or physical thing that you were, you know,

00:09:04   sort of charging for and I remember complaining about that.

00:09:06   And it's like, this is just a good reminder for myself

00:09:08   of this is why Apple likely did that,

00:09:11   is they knew that their policy has to hold up

00:09:14   to the people's worst intentions, not their best intentions.

00:09:19   And, you know, since they've opened it up,

00:09:22   people have taken advantage of that.

00:09:23   And you can imagine like, I suspect when these apps

00:09:26   went through App Review, they like,

00:09:29   like the pricing tiers for all of their things

00:09:31   were likely very different,

00:09:32   but you can dynamically change the pricing tiers,

00:09:35   I believe, for a subscription.

00:09:37   - Oh.

00:09:37   - I mean, fair enough, the people,

00:09:38   when they sign up for it, that pricing change

00:09:42   was going to be reflected to them.

00:09:43   You know, like I was best to understand,

00:09:45   like, you know, if that person signs up,

00:09:47   it did say that it was going to be $100 a week

00:09:50   to that person.

00:09:51   - Yeah, yeah, like it'll never rise the,

00:09:53   it'll never raise the price on existing subscriptions.

00:09:55   - Yeah.

00:09:56   - But you can raise it on new ones.

00:09:57   - So they can go through App Review,

00:09:59   where it's a dollar a week,

00:10:01   and then, you know, once it's through App Review,

00:10:03   they can change it,

00:10:04   which has always kind of been one of these awkward things.

00:10:07   I mean, I have no idea if that's the case,

00:10:08   but that's my guess is how a lot of these scams work.

00:10:11   Like it's, and it's tricky to like,

00:10:15   I could, you know, I don't know how you can deal with this,

00:10:18   other than you go back to the world

00:10:19   where it's very limited that you have to be like

00:10:21   a media company or something that is a, you know,

00:10:24   a subscription service that you can't have subscriptions

00:10:27   and utilities, but like that's problematic too.

00:10:29   Like it's such a tricky thing.

00:10:31   I mean, it makes me, it reminds me in a weird way

00:10:33   of consumable in-app purchase,

00:10:35   which was also, is also, you know,

00:10:37   and remains very problematic in a lot of ways

00:10:40   for different reasons.

00:10:41   Like it's sort of scammy in a different way

00:10:44   where it's emotional, it's sort of, it's the, you know,

00:10:46   create an application that has an addictive quality,

00:10:49   loss aversion, has a variety of these kinds

00:10:52   of psychological manipulation techniques in it,

00:10:54   and then have a consumable in-app purchase

00:10:56   where you can prey upon, you know, a small subset

00:11:00   of your users to spend huge sums of money.

00:11:02   And, you know, in the same way, I've for a long time

00:11:05   advocated that consumable in-app purchase

00:11:08   should always show the cumulative amount of money

00:11:11   that you've spent in the application to date,

00:11:15   that it's like, it's still obviously,

00:11:17   like it's the person's choice.

00:11:18   Like that, you know, there's two sides of this,

00:11:20   that there's the person being manipulated, scammed,

00:11:23   whatever you want to call it,

00:11:24   and the person doing the scamming.

00:11:25   And like that person is still making a choice to hit by,

00:11:29   but giving them that person the maximum amount

00:11:31   of information and making that as clear as possible

00:11:34   always seems like the best, you know, it's the,

00:11:37   that's avoiding some set of these issues

00:11:40   where there's the people who are just being,

00:11:44   who don't understand what they're doing,

00:11:46   you know, they think they're just signing up

00:11:48   for a free trial, and they're not expecting

00:11:51   to be charged at all.

00:11:53   Like, I mean, you could imagine there are, you know,

00:11:55   there are some free trials where,

00:11:57   yeah, not a sponsor this week, I think,

00:12:00   but like Squarespace, I think is an example of this,

00:12:02   where you have a free trial that when it ends

00:12:04   is when it asks you to then pay.

00:12:06   Like, that's a very, that's like the most kind,

00:12:10   appropriate ethical version of this,

00:12:11   where you're never charged until you are absolutely

00:12:14   confident that you want the thing,

00:12:16   whereas most of these, you know,

00:12:17   the free trials in the App Store are, it's a free trial,

00:12:20   and at the end, you'll immediately get charged,

00:12:22   and your billing information is already on iTunes.

00:12:24   So, you know, it's like that, these types of patterns

00:12:27   are so much, I think, there's the policy side,

00:12:31   and then, yeah, like there's the UI design,

00:12:34   consumer information side, where it's making it clear

00:12:37   and upfront what people are actually being charged,

00:12:39   both now and in the future, as well as giving them

00:12:43   good tools for canceling, getting refunds,

00:12:46   those types of things, you know, in the, you know,

00:12:49   if they change their mind or have issues

00:12:51   going down the road.

00:12:52   - Yeah, and I think it's important as developers

00:12:55   to consider and to weigh, like, the ethics

00:12:59   of how we're making money, and the various ways

00:13:03   in which we might be making money that,

00:13:06   either known or unknown to us, is kind of wrong

00:13:10   or bad feeling or amoral or something like that,

00:13:12   unethical, tricking, you know, whatever it is,

00:13:15   like, almost every business model that is available to us

00:13:19   has risks like that, or has the potential for,

00:13:24   kind of like, uncomfortable profitability in certain ways.

00:13:27   And it's a constant issue that we face.

00:13:30   And after the break, which I'll talk about also,

00:13:33   (laughs)

00:13:35   I'll talk more about that, but, you know,

00:13:36   even podcast ads, like, you know,

00:13:38   like I make a lot of my living from podcast ads,

00:13:41   and even they have a little bit of a downside,

00:13:45   in that one of the reason podcast ads

00:13:48   that are read by the hosts work is that

00:13:51   they all kind of have an implied endorsement,

00:13:55   even though, like, you know, like, I'm very careful,

00:13:57   as a podcast host who reads sponsorships,

00:13:59   I'm very careful to always tell the sponsors

00:14:02   and to tell them I read such that

00:14:04   they're never buying my endorsement.

00:14:06   I'm never selling that.

00:14:07   Like, they can't require endorsements.

00:14:09   They try, many of them try, not this one, fortunately,

00:14:12   but they try, but I always just say,

00:14:14   no, that isn't available.

00:14:16   And I will, you know, I can read their script,

00:14:20   and, you know, I can say what they say

00:14:23   that doesn't involve what I think of it.

00:14:25   But if I say what I think, I'm actually adding that myself.

00:14:28   I'm ad-libbing that.

00:14:29   That's not in their script,

00:14:30   and they aren't paying me to say that,

00:14:31   and they aren't requiring me to say that.

00:14:33   And so, the problem, though, is that, like,

00:14:36   that's a pretty fun distinction.

00:14:37   And, like, a lot of people will think that anything

00:14:39   that I advertise, or any sponsor that I do,

00:14:43   even if I'm just reading their marketing copy

00:14:46   and not talking about my opinion of it,

00:14:49   there is a level of implied endorsement there,

00:14:52   where some people think that, like,

00:14:54   if I'm reading something that I've never used,

00:14:56   they might assume I've used it and that I like it.

00:14:58   And so, we have to be very careful with sponsor selection,

00:15:01   even, like, who we even let advertise on our shows,

00:15:03   because there is that kind of level of implied endorsement,

00:15:06   and that makes me kind of uncomfortable.

00:15:08   But it's just kind of a reality of, like,

00:15:09   this is how this market works,

00:15:11   and this is the, by far, the most effective way

00:15:14   to fund podcast development,

00:15:16   and so we have to kind of take that,

00:15:18   but it kind of makes me uncomfortable.

00:15:20   The good thing is, this week's sponsor isn't one of those.

00:15:22   This week's sponsor is Linode.

00:15:24   Linode is a service I actually use,

00:15:25   I have used since long before they were a sponsor,

00:15:27   something like eight, nine years now,

00:15:29   and they don't require anybody to tell you

00:15:32   how great they are from their point of view.

00:15:34   They have this wonderful marketing copy

00:15:35   that I'll read in a second, but I am here to tell you

00:15:37   I actually like Linode a lot, and so this is,

00:15:39   fortunately, this conversation does not apply

00:15:40   to them at all.

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00:16:24   So, with Linode, you can do all sorts of things.

00:16:26   You can host applications, like what I do

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00:17:11   Thank you so much to Linode for supporting

00:17:12   this show and Relay FM.

00:17:14   - Related to the podcast advertising challenges

00:17:17   you just described, like, is in applications,

00:17:21   I think, themselves.

00:17:21   Like, I have to, like, in my applications,

00:17:24   I include a third-party ad framework,

00:17:27   which, in a weird way, is like,

00:17:29   I am giving a implied endorsement for any data collection

00:17:33   that they do in my application,

00:17:37   which is a really awkward, weird place to find yourself,

00:17:40   but is kind of the unfortunate reality of,

00:17:44   if you wanna make money from a free application,

00:17:47   there's a certain number of, like,

00:17:49   showing ads is something you're kinda gonna have to do.

00:17:52   And I long for the days of iAd,

00:17:54   where, like, I felt like the ad producer

00:17:57   was very much privacy-oriented and customer-positive.

00:18:01   But, like, now it certainly feels a little bit like

00:18:03   you're kind of choosing the best of a couple

00:18:07   of not-great options.

00:18:09   And I think we've talked about this before,

00:18:11   even back when iAd was discontinued.

00:18:14   I think I've settled on using Google for this,

00:18:17   just because I feel like they're a big enough company

00:18:19   that their compliance is likely better

00:18:24   than sort of a smaller, more fly-by-night

00:18:27   kind of advertising network that's trying

00:18:29   to get off the ground, or those kind of things.

00:18:32   Like, Google at least has a big enough incentive

00:18:36   to keep on the good side of things,

00:18:39   but it's still, I don't feel great about it.

00:18:41   It's not something that is a positive feeling,

00:18:44   but I feel like it's a compromise and a reality

00:18:46   that I just sort of have to accept.

00:18:48   - Oh yeah, and when I was doing Google Ads and Overcast,

00:18:51   I went through the same thought process

00:18:52   and came to the same conclusion.

00:18:54   If you have an ad-funded business,

00:18:57   the reality is the ad world is really messy.

00:19:00   And some parts of it can be reasonable,

00:19:02   and many parts of it are very unreasonable,

00:19:05   and sometimes you don't have a choice.

00:19:08   When I was doing the Google Ads in my app,

00:19:11   there's only so many mobile ad platforms

00:19:13   that you can choose from, and I agree with you

00:19:16   that Google is probably the one that is least likely

00:19:19   to be doing creepy stuff because they have

00:19:20   the most scrutiny and the most to lose,

00:19:23   and that's why I went with them.

00:19:24   And certainly, you're right, I think all the little players

00:19:28   are the ones that are usually the creepiest

00:19:30   and usually flagrantly violate all the laws

00:19:32   and privacy standards and regulations and everything.

00:19:34   But every business model you choose,

00:19:37   there's something like this, there's some ethical downside

00:19:41   that either is unavoidable or is really hard to avoid.

00:19:46   And with Overcast, I actually lucked out in that

00:19:51   I developed my own ad system after the Google thing,

00:19:54   just didn't do very well, I developed my own ad system

00:19:56   and that worked better, and I was able to use it.

00:19:58   So now I control everything, so now I know

00:20:01   that I'm not doing anything creepy with people's data

00:20:03   or privacy or anything, and so I can feel good about that.

00:20:06   But even with the most simple stuff,

00:20:08   like you might think that if you have a paid app,

00:20:11   or some way where people just pay you money

00:20:13   and then they get your app, even that has potential problems.

00:20:18   Like back when I was doing Instapaper,

00:20:20   that was paid up front, and the issue with that

00:20:24   was that because there was no free trial,

00:20:27   a lot of people would buy the app

00:20:30   and realize it wasn't for them.

00:20:32   Some people would buy it and never launch it.

00:20:34   Some people would buy it and realize,

00:20:37   you know what, this isn't what I thought it was,

00:20:38   or I don't like this after all.

00:20:40   I wish I hadn't spent that money.

00:20:42   Sometimes they would try to get a refund,

00:20:44   sometimes, and app store refunds are not easy to get.

00:20:48   You have to fill out some tickets somewhere,

00:20:50   and it's like most people don't even know

00:20:51   that that's possible, so the reality is

00:20:53   there's a whole lot of people who would like

00:20:54   to return something on the app store and just never bother.

00:20:57   Kind of like when mail-in rebates are really hard

00:21:00   to send back 'cause they have crazy requirements.

00:21:02   They know, like that's intentional, they do that

00:21:03   so that the fewer people send them back.

00:21:05   It's kind of like that.

00:21:06   The app store returns and refunds are really hard,

00:21:09   and I think that's by design.

00:21:11   I think that's because they don't want

00:21:12   a lot of people getting refunds.

00:21:14   So the reality is even with direct purchases,

00:21:17   there's a whole lot of those purchases

00:21:18   that you get the money for, but then the person

00:21:21   immediately deletes the app, and they realize,

00:21:22   ah crap, this isn't for me.

00:21:23   I just kissed that $5 goodbye,

00:21:26   and they're kind of mad about it,

00:21:27   or they kind of feel ripped off,

00:21:28   but there's nothing they're gonna do about it.

00:21:30   And I knew that, like with Instapaper,

00:21:31   I knew some portion of this money that I'm getting,

00:21:34   I kind of don't want.

00:21:35   I kind of feel bad keeping

00:21:37   because these people don't want it.

00:21:38   And I thought that moving to the overcast premium

00:21:41   within that purchase, I thought that would solve

00:21:43   that problem, but it actually doesn't

00:21:45   because what I recently started getting

00:21:47   is emails every couple of days from somebody saying,

00:21:50   so overcast premium is this option in overcast

00:21:53   where you can pay to hide the aforementioned banner ads

00:21:55   in the app that I have ads for other podcasts.

00:21:58   And then I play on screen,

00:21:59   this is how it makes most of its money.

00:22:00   And there's a premium option

00:22:01   where you can remove those ads.

00:22:03   Podcast makers also insert ads themselves

00:22:07   into podcasts in audio form,

00:22:09   like the sponsor read I just did.

00:22:11   Some people think that the overcast premium purchase

00:22:15   will remove those ads in podcasts that are audio

00:22:20   that I have no control over.

00:22:22   And I get an occasional email from somebody saying,

00:22:25   hey, I bought premium,

00:22:26   but I'm still hearing ads in my podcasts.

00:22:29   And for every person who's emailed me asking about that,

00:22:31   there are obviously many more who just never email me

00:22:35   who are just disappointed and who just feel ripped off.

00:22:37   And some of them might request a refund,

00:22:39   but most of them probably don't.

00:22:41   And that, and it's uncomfortable for me,

00:22:43   that even though I think I'm doing everything above board

00:22:46   and I'm trying to be as clear as I possibly can be,

00:22:49   there are still areas that I make money

00:22:53   that are kind of wrong or that I shouldn't

00:22:58   really have that money.

00:22:59   And I don't think there's a way to make money

00:23:01   in this business that doesn't have some angle like that.

00:23:04   - Yeah, and I think it's fundamentally like,

00:23:08   the ideal, like the most ethical, ideal situation

00:23:13   is we make something, someone else wants that thing,

00:23:19   and they give us some amount of money

00:23:23   in exchange for that thing.

00:23:24   And they're happy about it, and we're happy about it.

00:23:27   Like, that situation, and I think all of these models

00:23:32   include many of the transactions do fit that model,

00:23:37   that everybody's happy, there's no issue.

00:23:41   And a lot of what these things deal with, I think,

00:23:45   are the, it's what proportion of your users

00:23:50   are falling into that group, into that category,

00:23:53   that they're getting a fair utility for the money

00:23:58   that they're parting with.

00:24:00   And many of the sort of like, the ethical questions

00:24:06   come to like, well, what is your tolerance

00:24:09   for that not being the case?

00:24:11   Because like you said, and even things

00:24:14   that superficially seem like that is exactly what it is,

00:24:17   you can't control people misunderstanding

00:24:19   what you're gonna do.

00:24:21   I mean, you can intentionally be making them

00:24:24   a misunderstanding, which is sort of more like

00:24:26   the dark patterny kind of thing,

00:24:28   but no matter how perfect your marketing copy is,

00:24:31   no matter how big the button is, or the text is,

00:24:34   or whatever it is, someone is going to be confused.

00:24:37   And it's a question, I think, of the degree to which

00:24:39   you are, you know, you're tolerant of that confusion,

00:24:42   of the people who are doing something,

00:24:43   who are, you know, parting with money

00:24:47   for a reason that is not what they expect,

00:24:49   or not something that they are happy with after the fact.

00:24:52   And like, that's complicated, it's nuanced, it's messy,

00:24:56   it's not something that I think is super straightforward.

00:24:59   And it's, you know, it's the, like, you can imagine

00:25:03   a world where say, any purchase in your application

00:25:07   requires like a five step, like, are you sure?

00:25:10   Are you really sure?

00:25:11   Like, this is what you're getting,

00:25:12   this is what you're, you know, you're parting with,

00:25:14   like, you know, I'm gonna wait five,

00:25:15   I'm gonna wait 10 seconds before the button's enabled

00:25:18   for you to push it, like, you could imagine a scenario

00:25:20   where like, that's what you do to make sure people

00:25:22   are like absolutely sure, but like, that's really annoying

00:25:25   for people who know what they want,

00:25:26   and is probably bad for business, and like,

00:25:29   it gets into these very complicated things.

00:25:31   And I think, the more I think about this type of topic,

00:25:34   it becomes a question of like, the important thing

00:25:37   as developers is for us to be thoughtful

00:25:40   about these choices that we're making,

00:25:43   that they're intentional choices, like, hopefully,

00:25:45   you're making like choices for good, not for evil.

00:25:47   Like, and you're, at least you've thought about this,

00:25:51   that you've thought like, whenever you have an opportunity

00:25:54   to ask, you know, ask for money from somebody,

00:25:58   that you try and imagine all the different things

00:26:01   that people could be confused by,

00:26:02   that you try and think about the implications

00:26:04   and the sort of, the implied, what, you know,

00:26:08   sort of implied agreements you're kind of,

00:26:10   people could be thinking that they're entering into,

00:26:12   and you're thoughtful about it, and like,

00:26:14   that's I think how we do this ethically,

00:26:17   is to have consideration there, and make sure

00:26:20   that our choices are as best aligned to our values

00:26:23   as we can, knowing that we're never gonna get it,

00:26:26   it's never gonna be perfect.

00:26:27   There's always gonna be people who buy something

00:26:30   and then regret it, people who buy something

00:26:32   and not think that they're gonna,

00:26:33   that they actually were buying it,

00:26:34   or that they were getting a free trial, like,

00:26:36   those should hopefully be the exception,

00:26:40   you know, rather than the rule.

00:26:41   Whereas, you know, clearly in the example of the apps

00:26:43   that we talked about at the beginning of the show,

00:26:46   the intention was to mislead, the intention was to

00:26:50   take advantage of these sort of deficits

00:26:53   in the way that the app store is structured,

00:26:55   and the way that the in-app purchase system is structured,

00:26:58   you know, they were abusing those to take advantage

00:27:00   of people in a way that is, I think there are very few

00:27:03   people who are happy that they've been spending

00:27:07   $156 a year on their QR scanner.

00:27:10   Maybe they exist, but I don't think

00:27:12   that's a very high proportion.

00:27:14   - Yeah, I mean, some degree of some of this discomfort,

00:27:19   I think is totally unavoidable.

00:27:21   But you can choose how much of it you're willing to take.

00:27:25   And, you know, some of this might depend on your situation.

00:27:27   Like, if you're somewhere really desperate for money,

00:27:30   and this money is like supporting your whole family,

00:27:32   that makes things more complicated.

00:27:34   But I think there are ethical ways,

00:27:37   there's enough ethical ways to make money

00:27:40   that I think most people aren't finding themselves

00:27:42   in that situation.

00:27:43   And if you are able to make money in the app store,

00:27:47   if you have the resources and the talent to make an app

00:27:50   that can somehow make money,

00:27:52   I think you also can make it do so ethically.

00:27:55   And so I encourage people to,

00:27:57   not only to be on the right side of that,

00:27:59   but also to think about all this,

00:28:01   even from design perspectives.

00:28:03   Like, you know, I need to rethink

00:28:05   how I present Overcast Premium,

00:28:06   because there are people who buy it

00:28:07   who think it's gonna remove podcast ads.

00:28:09   Like, I need to think about that

00:28:10   and see if I can address that.

00:28:12   There's all sorts of things like that,

00:28:13   where it's important to,

00:28:15   when things are in your control,

00:28:17   make it easy for people to get refunds,

00:28:19   make it easy for people to do returns, stuff like that.

00:28:20   And then for things that are out of your control,

00:28:22   like app store stuff,

00:28:24   try to make your designs as clear and friendly as possible

00:28:28   for people to do the right thing,

00:28:30   and to be happy with their purchase,

00:28:32   and to be clear on what they're paying you and why.

00:28:36   - Yeah, and I think, I can also, I think to close this out,

00:28:38   just noting that there have been times where,

00:28:43   like it's hard to see people,

00:28:46   like there have been times when it was harder

00:28:48   for me to make a living in the app store.

00:28:49   And then you see people who are doing dubious things

00:28:52   and making good money in the app store,

00:28:54   like good in the sense of lots of it,

00:28:56   not in terms of ethically good.

00:28:57   And I think the thing that I will say is that

00:29:01   holding to good ethics

00:29:04   has been a excellent long-term strategy,

00:29:07   that any of these things are,

00:29:09   like any of these things, when they start to become scams

00:29:12   and problematic things,

00:29:13   and you're taking advantage of people

00:29:14   or exploiting flaws in the app store,

00:29:17   those aren't things that are gonna lead

00:29:19   to a long-term viable business.

00:29:20   Like doing something in an ethical, trustworthy way

00:29:23   will work much better in the long run.

00:29:26   And I think it's just an encouragement to anybody

00:29:27   who's sort of seeing these things and like,

00:29:29   oh man, like I could have made that money.

00:29:31   It's like, if you wanna build a long-term business

00:29:33   that's gonna have people, customers who trust you

00:29:36   and want to continue supporting you

00:29:38   and to build a business that'll last a long time,

00:29:40   doing it in an ethical, thoughtful way

00:29:43   is gonna be much more successful.

00:29:45   - Thanks for listening, and we'll talk to you next week.

00:29:47   - Bye.

00:29:48   [