The dirty side of App Store

Auto-renewing subscriptions make me sad

I have 400 apps on my iPhone. I’ve paid for some in the App Store and purchased add-ons via In-App purchases for others. One-off payment, fair and square.

Today I’ve discovered the world of “Auto-renewing subscriptions” that was used by magazines in the App Store for almost 2 years now. Nothing new, dangerous or tricky.

Real-world case

Meet Agniya

Meet my girlfriend Agniya. She owns Mac Air, iPad & iPhone. Likes to have cool gear, but hardly can call herself tech-savvy. She is actually the least tech literate person I know, she is my point of contact with real world.

About a week ago, we wanted to do something digital together, so we went onto the App Store and downloaded the new free app “Sing! Karaoke” by rock-stars from Smule. The app allows you to sing karaoke with other people, but if you want to sing alone, you need to pay. You need to purchase a “VIP subscription”.

Sign! subscriptions
“Ok. Let’s purchase a weekly subscription for £1.99 and cancel before the week expires.”

So we did. Had fun and moved on. By the way, it’s the best karaoke app I’ve used.

Cancelling “Auto-renewal subscription”

Today, to my surprise Agniya came to me(I’m so happy she remembered) :

I can’t find how to cancel the subscription to that app we played sometime ago. I need to leave now, need help.

Sure. I took the iPhone, thinking that she’ve missed the obvious option. Let’s see how easy it is:

  • I click on “Sing! app” and went through every possible option. Nothing.
  • Clicked on Settings, then Sing! icon. Nothing.
  • Then I went through every section in Settings that I thought might be relevant, even thought I knew they were not. Notifications, Privacy, iTunes & App Store, Game Center. Nothing.
  • Went to App Store, searched for Sing! app, went through everything on the app page. Nothing.

At this point I’ve thought, may be there is no such thing as “Auto-renewing subscriptions” and we don’t need to cancel anything.

One last resort. Google “How to cancel auto-renewing subscription in iOS?”. Here it is: Gosh. Look:

Cancelling “Auto-Renewing Subscription” on iOS

This thing is hidden so deep, that it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how the hell is to cancel the subscription. If it wasn’t me, I bet Agniya wouldn’t even bother to pursue the quest.

The Economist subscription options

It turns out that down-to-earth Agniya also had The Economist subscription running that she wasn’t aware of. She is occasional The Economist reader, would read an issue every two months. But would never subscribe.

“I thought I was paying for issues separately. ”

Turns out she spent £120 on The Economist subscriptions.

“Auto-renewing subscriptions” turned out to be dangerous and tricky.

iOS developers please…

“Auto-renewing subscription” is a gold-mine for developers and Apple. Money-sucking nightmare for consumers. Here is my beg for app developers:

If the app monitise via “Auto-renewing subscription” please let me manage them within the app. And if I’m not using your app, please remind me to unsubscribe.

Last point, made me think that reminder to unsubscribe should be a good practice as well for the Web.