Report Calls Out iOS App Store for Having Too Many Apps with “Sneaky” Subscription Tactics

We’ve all been there. You download what promises to be a great, free app, only to find out it wants you to be locked in to an expensive subscription. It’s frustrating and disappointing. It turns out it’s becoming a large problem for the iOS App Store that isn’t doing anything to shut it down and is actually encouraging it.

“Sneaky Subscription” Tactics

It’s obvious it’s a moneymaker for the app companies, or they wouldn’t be doing it. But let’s not forget that Apple gets a portion of these profits as well, That might be the reason why’re they’re not rushing in to try to stop this practice.

TechCrunch reports that iOS users spent a stunning $10.6 billion on app subscriptions for iOS apps from the App store in 2017. That’s on track to grow to more than $75 billion by 2022.


But it’s such a boom and so good for the developers and Apple that the developers are tricking users into signing up for subscriptions that are sometimes outrageously expensive. They intentionally make the app confusing to set up so that you don’t realize what you’re clicking and agreeing to and make promises of “free trials” that convert to paid subscriptions after only a few days.

Complicit Apple

But this is something Apple is well aware of. They held an invitation-only meeting in New York in 2017. The goal was to let developers know that the app model was changing.

They wanted apps to focus more on recurring revenue from subscriptions instead of one-time sales. This led to apps switching to that model and Apple announcing in a resulting quarterly earnings report that paid subscriptions from Apple and third parties had surpassed $300 million.

It’s not clear which Apple representatives were in attendance at the meeting or which developers. But what is known is that Apple introduced the initiative known as “Subscription 2.0” that they have been working on since 2016.


This initiative was intended as a method for developers of utilities and other apps to bill users on a recurring basis. Again, it’s beneficial to Apple as well, as they receive 30 percent of that subscription price. After one year, their take is cut to 15 percent, with the rest going to developers and app publishers.


There really isn’t a way to beat this system other than just not signing up for these subscriptions. There are some that we willingly walk into, such as Netflix or Dropbox. But there are also apps that disguise it really well.

The one method I have found to beat that system is that once I walk into a subscription, I set a reminder to cancel it by the end of the trial date. Otherwise, I’m sure to forget to cancel. That’s how I earned my Amazon Prime and CBS All Access accounts. But I decided I liked them after all and have kept them.

But the others, I always cancel out on. Of course, the stories out there describe some subscription models that are so sneaky that they have you on a paid subscription without you even knowing it. But you just need to be really careful when clicking around those apps.

Do you get suckered into signing up for sneaky subscriptions? Do you find it happens more often with Apple? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

One comment

  1. The whole App Store has become murkier and more opaque. You can’t tell the real cost of an “in-app purchases” app before you download. Full disclosure seems to be missing recently. Then the reviews default to a sort that favours the vendor, change to “most critical” it changes back.

    With subscriptions the deceit and greed is a turnoff. I hope people just balk at paying $5 to $10 each and every month for an app that used to be a one-time payment of $5 to $10..
    Many of these are just photo effects or Gimmick apps for example. Bad Bad Apple

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