Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me)

The App Store does not protect consumers

January 4 2023

This morning I came across a post on Reddit about App Store refunds. I'll quote it in full:

Hello! Recently I forgot to cancel two free trials for a couple apps that I’d purchased. I figured it wouldn’t be an issue getting them refunded, and went to to request a refund. Both refund requests were denied, so I requested they be reviewed, but still it says they’re ineligible for refunds.

When I called Apple support they said that there is nothing they can do to reverse the charges, and my only option would be contacting my bank and reporting them as fraud. I also contacted both of the apps to ask if they could refund on their end and was told it must be done through Apple.

Both of these charges were for $59.99, and this has over drafted my checking account. I’m very stressed about money and can’t afford $120 in fees for apps I don’t wish to use.

If I do end up refuting these charges with my bank can anyone tell me what will happen? Should I call Apple support again and ask for a manager? It didn’t seem like there was anything that could be done on their end, but I really really need this money back :(

And yes, I’ve definitely learned my lesson this time about signing on for free trials.

As an App Store developer myself, I can confirm that we do not have the power to grant refunds. App Store customers sometimes contact me anyway for a refund, because Apple does not educate them about the refund process, but all I can do is link them to Apple's support documentation.

What is Apple's App Store refund policy? An as App Store developer and consumer, I honestly don't know! In searching for a clear refund policy statement, I found this irony on Apple's App Store web page:

Need a refund? AppleCare has your back.

Visit Apple Support online or use the Apple Support app to request a refund for App Store purchases.

AppleCare clearly didn't have the Reddit poster's back.

As far as I can tell, the App Store refund "policy" is effectively this: you can request a refund from Apple, and Apple might or might not grant you a refund, at Apple's sole discretion, for any reason or no reason.

From many years of experience following Apple news, I can predict that hordes of Apple defenders will come out of the woodwork to blame the Reddit poster for failing to cancel the App Store trials in time. It's not Apple's fault if an individual consumer fails in their personal responsibility, right? However, Apple defenders need to ask themselves how Apple, who supposedly designed the App Store to protect consumers, got into the business of endorsing, indeed pushing, opt-out trials — trials that automatically charge the consumer at the end of the trial period — rather than, say, opt-in trials that simply expire? Apple controls the App Store completely, so that was Apple's decision. Let me quote Apple's open letter from a few years ago, Addressing Spotify’s claims:

Spotify wants all the benefits of a free app without being free.

A full 84 percent of the apps in the App Store pay nothing to Apple when you download or use the app. That’s not discrimination, as Spotify claims; it’s by design

It's by design! If you look at the AppFigures list of the 200 top grossing iOS App Store apps in the United States, a shocking 199 of them are "Free". (The sole exception is Minecraft at $6.99 USD.) Prima facie, the fact that almost all of the top grossing apps are free ought to be a kind of paradox. In reality, though, the App Store is not paradoxical, it's a giant bait-and-switch scheme. Consumers are baited into downloading these supposedly free apps, and then they're pushed or tricked into In App Purchases. Do you want a free trial? No problem! Do you want to get out of the trial and avoid getting charged? Well, that's a problem, an obstacle course for consumers.

My own App Store apps are all upfront paid. But it's extremely difficult to compete in the App Store race to the bottom, where paid apps are in the same "store" right next to apps that essentially lie about being free. People often compare App Store to a retail store, but what physical retail store in the world allows you to walk out the door with 84% of its products without paying anything? That's not a store, it's a scam.

Speaking of scams, the App Store is full of them. I've attempted many times to raise awareness of scams in the App Store, especially in the Mac App Store, since Mac software is my biggest business, and I've even received some news media coverage about this, for example, Apple’s still not catching scammy apps, and this time they’re on the Mac and Mac App Store apps using in-app purchases to hide free apps that need subscriptions.

Last year I attempted to raise awareness of an App Store developer apparently committing fraud, both by using multiple fake developer accounts and by posting fake ratings and reviews in the App Store. Recently I noticed that the same app SmartPlay for Safari is still in the Mac App Store and still a top download, currently in the 100 top "free" list in the United States. This app is not really free, however. It has a paywall on first launch, as noted by many of the app's reviews. (The reviews that aren't fake, that is.)

I talked about this app's ratings and reviews before. It's still rated 4.0 out of 5, now with 7019 ratings, which is 1357 more reviews than 5 months ago, an average of about 270 new reviews each month. (That's just in the US App Store. App Store ratings and reviews are always country-specific.) The reviews, however, tell a very different story. They're as bad as ever.

Mac App Store reviews

Mac App Store reviews

19 of the 24 most recent reviews are 1-star. Let me highlight one of those.

Free, after you pay to unlock features.

"Free, after you pay to unlock features."

Where's that famous App Store "curation" we've heard so much about?

When Apple itself says "We can't help you, talk to your credit card company", then I must ask, how is that any better than the so-called "wild west" of software distribution outside the App Store?

One More Thing™ about the App Store:

App Store search for mastodon, top result is an add for Truth Social
Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me)