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Apple removes then restores DoNotPay app in the App Store (twitter.com/jbrowder1)
159 points by danielinoa 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 88 comments

As an aside, their website uses a serious dark pattern to trick users into paying. Their app is purportedly for helping you reclaim your fees so it seems like adding a bank account makes sense after you input your email address.

Off to the right you see the text > "...you agree to charge a $36 a year subscription to this payment method."

There's no mention of a $36 / annual anywhere else. It's on the margin to clearly trick the user when simply adding a payment info.

I believe they used to not even mention it in their checkout and instead hid the $3 a month subscription in TOS.

Update: It was indefensible, and Apple has already reversed course. It's a shame it sometimes takes twitter outcry for the right thing to happen, but at least the right thing happened.

This seem indefensible at first blush. The app has been available as-is for years, so if the explanation given him is correct, it's a really bad look for Apple.

Wouldn't happen in a world where the DOJ forces Apple to open up the platform to 3rd party installs.

It's a computer, and the most popular computer in the US. It's also the only computer a lot of people own.

It's not a dedicated gaming device - people use iPhone to call, edit media, find jobs, pay for things, calculate, date, do email. It's a computer. Arguments like "but you can't install on a Nintendo" aren't equivalent. Nintendo makes one of a dozen different game platforms, all of which have wide penetration and lots of alternatives. And it's just for games. This is closer to "you can't repair your tractor", which is also an issue for farmers.

Computers, especially those with massive market share, should be open to 3rd party installs.

It's an expensive device and it got to where it is because of a trillion dollar company backing it. You can't compete with that.

You own an iPhone and you're happy installing just from Apple? That's fine. But there are a lot more people in this world that will benefit from open computing. Apple can still have their App Store, charge for distribution, and will still be making bank.

Computing on computers should be free and open.

If we let this slide, we'll one day own nothing. Stallman was right about everything.

“Well plaintiffs always want me to define relevant markets as narrowly as possible. It helps their case. And defendants always want me to define markets as broad as possible, because it helps their case.” — Judge YGR on Epic/Apple case.

In the end it will depend on the judge to define the markets.

But I am of the firm opinion that iOS devices and Android devices are not interchangeable even if you can do many of the same things on both and many apps are available on both platforms.

Just because a hatchback, a big rig and a personal airplane all get you from A to B while seated and all have air conditioning and entertainment systems does not make them fungible.

Note: all console generations so far had the option of loading software from physical media (even if there are models without this option, they are not the only model). As long as physical media is an alternative for loading software on consoles, consoles are not as restrictive as iOS devices (even if creation of that physical media requires licensing 1'st party development tools). Apple iOS is the only platform where a company uses its natural monopoly over the hardware and OS to create a monopoly on software distribution.

Furthermore, Apple is using their created monopoly on software distribution to create a monopoly on payments. Even if you disagree with me on the first part (platform -> distribution) I know of no other case where the second part is also true (distribution -> payments). Goggle may try to impose Google Pay for in-app payments but they do not have the a monopoly on distribution (F-droid, Amazon, Aptoid, etc. exist).

no, on consoles, the platform holder has to approve every single game to be made into discs. If your game violates Sony and Microsoft's rules, they won't let you make the discs. Its same with the app store.

Those restrictions are made through use of trademarks, limiting access to development tools through contracts and code signing.

First can be sidestepped by not mentioning the trademarks of the platform holder anywhere.

The second can be side stepped through reverse engineering.

Third can eventually be hacked out of the device (like the recent encryption key reveal on Intel CPU's) and was not applicable to older generations.

Proof of 1 and 2 is the existence of new games developed for ancient consoles.



“Most console games have to be signed with a secret key designed by the console maker or the game will not load on the console. There are several methods to get unsigned code to execute which include software exploits, the use of a modchip, a technique known as the swap trick or running a softmod.”

I don’t see how iOS is different here.

"Can be sidestepped" is a far cry from "average users can do this," you know.

And yet it is done as proven by new software development efforts for antiquated platforms like the NES, SNES, GBA, N64 or PS2. New cartridges are being made today. The original vendor has no responsibility to make alternative software easy. But I believe they should have a responsibility to not make it impossible or intentionally harder than necessary.

There is the small fact that, once those platforms became antiquated, the population that constitutes "average users" also changed significantly, skewing vastly more toward the more technical end of the spectrum. They are therefore not valid examples to talk about here, IMO.

Aren't all of those also true with iOS? Have you heard of Jailbreaking?

Of course I heard of Jailbreaking. The difference was that jailbreaking and modding consoles requires modified hardware to run unapproved software (digitally distributed). But reverse engineering the development tools and the signing keys in order to create unapproved disks or cartridges is a viable method to create software for unmodified devices. See FreeDVDBoot for the PS2.

Jailbreaking definitely does not require modified hardware. You also don't need to jailbreak to install 3rd party apps. See http://altstore.io/.

By modified hardware I mean a device that is not in its default state. Jailbraking alters the firmware making a jailbroken iPhone different from from a mint one.

I did not know about that one but I did know of AppValey and others that work based on enterprise certificates. I am not sure what prevents Epic from using this method to create an alternative store or why Apple does not claim that if you want you can have alternative stores on iOS therefore there is no antithrust issue.

Of course AppValey and the like require installing a root certificate.

Also, none of this allows you to unlock the bootloader.

Don't most consoles require the software loaded from said physical media to be made with the manufactuer's SDK and signed by their private key?

Yes, but this was not always true and even today that key can eventually be extracted like it was extracted on Intel CPUs.

Define computing. I am free to write and distribute computation via Javascript in Safari. Should computing be lower level? How low? From the bootchain? Who decides at what layer “free computing” should be wedged into a product? Why can’t Apple make that decision for themselves?

Because they are making that decision for users. The devices are owned by users since the day of purchase.

Why can’t users make that decision for themselves? Granted, many people choose to buy Apple devices because they do not desire general computing devices and instead desire appliances.

But giving up that control erodes ownership itself. A device not fully controlled by you is not fully owned by you. You may own a license to use it for a limited time. But people do not buy hardware devices with the expectation of actually only buying a license to use them.

How many product decisions are made on your behalf between the inception of product specification and distribution to you? Just because you purchase the final thing doesn't entitle you to have control over product decisions. I don't think it makes sense to entangle ownership and programmability as a product feature.

Your reference to "general computing device" here is a concept that a particular market identifies with (you being in that market). Attached to it is some kind of concept of free/open. Apple will tell you their devices are general computing devices. I am currently playing around with lidar sensors in an iPhone 12 pro by writing code and pushing it onto my device. The functionality I can build is pretty arbitrary and I would call it general computing. I would agree with Apple.

You do of course have to resign that code every week or so or it stops working. You are also limited to the APIs Apple provides. And if you want to publish that code, you have to get it approved by Apple. Otherwise you are stuck distributing source code that other people have to pay X$ for a dev account and resign every 7 days.

All of this is not applicable to other platforms (maybe to consoles but I already commented about them on this thread).

A duopoly of news organizations that can pick what facts count as news would be a disaster for democracy, is a duopoly of tech companies getting to pick what protocols and software can exist any better? The decentralized Web never could have been created in this atmosphere.

It should entitle me to make any modification I want to the device I purchased. If I am not allowed to modify it I do not fully own it. I am only granted a license to use hardware I purchased (for a limited time even, see Sonnos).

Well... you can completely reprogram the device, if you have the tools and knowledge for it.

Apple has no obligation to make this process easy or even possible, and if the users still buy their products, they clearly don't care enough about these restrictions.

Not caring is precisely the problem. A problem that leads to erosion of ownership. And this leads to a form of communism. Apple, Google, etc. are in some ways similar to the state in communist regimes. They own everything but they promise to give you fair access until they don't.

I don't think it is about "not caring". Apple cares intensely about the products they build taking into the needs of their addressable market. There are 1000s of product decisions made between inception and distribution into your hands. I don't believe that the one decision around open and free programmability of native OS-level applications has any association with ownership to them.

I am referring to the customers not caring about whether they truly own the devices they buy.

How is a capitalist monopoly communism? These operating systems are the companies private property, they can do what they want with them.

The only way to prevent them is by abolishing their property and putting them in the public domain.

The software is the property of the companies of course. But the devices, once purchased are the property of the customer. However, the customer lacks full ownership of the device because the customer lacks full control over the device as long as the customer can not replace the software with other software regardless of the existence of that other software.

I own a PC I buy preinstalled with Windows because I can replace Windows with something else. As long as I can find spare parts I can make it work. Windows is just a part.

I do not fully own a device with a locked bootloader that can not be unlocked because once the vendor no longer provides updates I can not replace the broken part (software). The vendor maintains a degree of ownership over a device I purchased (applicable to phones, cars, tractors, etc.).

A capitalist monopoly is not communism. It is not what I said. I said the relationship between users and corporations (Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, MS, Tesla, John Deere, etc.) has a degree of resemblance to the relationship between citizens and the state in comunist regimes.

FYI (or, maybe not -- you seem to know what's going on already), there's a subreddit literally called "Stallman Was Right: https://www.reddit.com/r/StallmanWasRight/

> Computers, especially those with massive market share, should be open to 3rd party installs.

Why? If you don't like it, don't buy their product. I think iPhone is shit because of this, and other tactics to lock the user in, so I don't use it and wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

I think relying on perfect information from the consumer is a little naive?

It's easy to (say) find the phone with the best camera, but you never know you need freedom until it's too late.

There are mechanisms to inform the user of this. Tech magazines etc. should be the ones responsible for informing the user that they are being locked in, even if the HW is good.

But in reality, most people know. It's just that they tell themselves they won't ever want to do a thing until they kinda do and at that point they just bought the wrong product for that purpose.

Maybe iOS devices should come with a big warning label like cigarettes:

Warning: Apple solely controls what apps you can run on this device

The problem is: Installing software on a phone hasn't ever been "normal" before a few years ago, and since then, it has never really been about installing any random program like it is on PC.

We're right in the middle of shift of perspective where smart-phones stop being just cellphones with some extra features but actually peoples main access to general computing.

But to many they still are just "phones", and tech companies are taking advantage of this situation to shape the mentality around them in a different way than with desktop computing. This is their right, although it's obviously evil.

It's the media (tech magazines, youtube channels, etc.) that should be clearing up these misconceptions, but the sad reality is, people don't care. If I try explaining to a non-IT friend why installing any random software is essential, they look at me like I'm wearing a tin foil hat. People don't understand how quickly computation is turning into an important aspect of freedom.

I find that to be a fair proposal.

Making an error, and then correcting that error 4 hours later, is certainly many things. "Unfathomably rapid" comes to mind as my first response.

If he hadn't got a large following on Twitter would it have been rapid?

Perhaps! Unfortunately, given the available evidence, there’s no way to determine whether it’s a true causative or a false correlation.

Hard to know, since if he didn't have a large following, we wouldn't have heard about it either way.

Or at all?

That is rapid, but if (as Josh claims) they said they were going to pull the app 5 minutes later, it seems appropriate that they would have a quick response in their reversal.

After the reversal, Developers are chanting "Awesome", "This is great", "Running to Twitter helped", etc etc. Not a single developer asked why and how did it happen in the first place.

The original purpose of the App Store guidelines were to protect the users / customers. And it did!. It worked great. And Apple charge you 30% for Digital Goods. And nothing for physical goods. It was Fair. 30% for the likes of Gaming, Productivity Apps such as Office, Camera, Calendar, Photo Editing etc etc. That was fine. And true to its words, Steve's Apple had all the rationale in nearly all rejection cases.

These days App Store policy is much more about rent seeking, their sole purpose is no longer serving its users and customer's best interest. But used in every opportunity to extract more revenues from these Apps and Services. Not to mention how many of these letters from Apple suggest Developers of Free ( as in beer ) Apps contributed nothing to the App Store and act as a "Free Rider" on Apple's platform. Compounded by Tim Cook's comment on App Store and being user first.

Normally I give some benefits of doubt to CEO as they may not be on top of all the things happening in a company. But judging from the Apple vs IMG and Apple vs Qualcomm cases I think he knows exactly what he is doing.

This whole things stinks and reeks of hypocrisy to me.

> Not a single developer asked why and how did it happen in the first place.

A human reviewer applied the app store policies as best she understood them but in the end was mistaken and the decision was reversed.

Review systems like this are better when they optimize for false positives rather than false negatives because of the fence leaning problem. If you give publishers the the benefit of the doubt then the result is people cozying right up to the fence of allowable behavior or leaning juuuust over it but not enough to trigger a ban. However, if you throw down the banhammer on everyone near the fence regardless of what side they're on people will actually say clear of it.

I'm starting to suspect were hitting peak Apple. It feels like they might be pushing in app purchase through apple pay as their means for continued revenue growth rather than product innovation.

Unless they reverse their course themselves, it's only a matter of time before they're deservedly hit with antitrust.

Antitrust with 13% market share. Good luck explaining that one to the judge.

Around 50% in the US.

The real issue is that Apple has control over its devices after sale. That it decides what they can and cannot run based on its own arbitrary rules that no one can challenge. That it can literally put other companies out of business by denying them the privilege of having an iOS app.

And something like 60-75% app store dollar-share in the US.

"Apple controls 100% of the iOS software market. This antitrust case is not about phones, instead it's about iOS software, and we shall demonstrate very clearly how Apple are abusing their total monopoly on that particular product."

That was really easy, and I'm not even a lawyer.

“Well plaintiffs always want me to define relevant markets as narrowly as possible. It helps their case.” — Judge YGR on Epic/Apple case.

It shows, that you are not a lawyer.

I didn't charge $600 for that post so obviously I'm not.

I've seen this comment repeatedly on this site. Presumably the posters making it don't actually believe we have a world government that rules over all countries, yet they keep making the assumption antitrust rulings happen over world market share.

Personally I think it was right around 2011 or so, maybe continue to coast up afterwards.

My personal favorites were the 2010-2012 mac pro. keyboard on first generation macbook pro with keys that were concave not flat. unibody on later macbook pro - the one with ports and sd card. I will say the iphone peaked for me at the iphone 8, which is relatively recent.

i remember Steve Woz saying he's not seen a need to upgrade since the 8 too: https://youtu.be/q3u5-AcocZ4

>I'm starting to suspect were hitting peak Apple

As a shareholder or a product user?

As a regulator. Regulators are there to regulate. Just like when they trashed Microsoft back in the day on IE, and just like when they turned their attention to Google for its practices on the search engines.

Shareholders want to make money. Users do not always have the power to change things, when things are going off the rails and a tilted playing field is forming.

This is why

I had an interesting and somewhat similar experience, where a long-standing app feature triggered an unexpected rejection. We gnashed our teeth for a couple weeks and finally submitted an appeal. I expected it to be rejected, since the original reviewer was steadfast in rejecting the app and our arguments.

But it was immediately approved on appeal, to our great surprise. I wonder if Apple is aware that they're treading on thin(ner) ice with regard to the App Store.

This demonstrates the amazing power of social media.

It only took 2-3 hours for one of the largest, most powerful corporations, to reverse their decision.

This demonstrates the amazing savings of crowdsourcing appeals.

It only took 2-3 hours for Apple to assess the PR cost of banning the app and decide it's not worth the income increase.

This demonstrates that unless you're big enough to garner large social media outcry, you don't matter and can be trampled over by a corporation easily.

we have the law and court for a reason, and i think the public should have more access to it to demand justice and fair treatment. So that all entities of all sizes have equal access to it.

I agree, but would emphasize that the main thing at stake is negative publicity. If there's one thing social media has proven to be good for, perhaps exclusively, it's rapidly spreading shame.

I am afraid not.

Prior to the current Anti-Trust issues on App Store policy, Apple doesn't even bother responding to people out rage on twitter. Even if they did it takes days and sometimes weeks to get something resolved.

The only reason they are having such turn around time now is only because they are under scrutiny.

I've heard about the app when it started just for parking tickets. I didn't know it expanded to other legal issues including small claims court filings, asylum, visas, green cards, and housing for homeless. Amazing.

Every app needs to have a built-in messaging channel that allows you to display rich-text (including clickable links) "news and updates" to your existing users.

That way, when you do get kicked out from an app store, at least you can direct users to your web site (which is probably a violation of app store guidelines, but if it's your only/main revenue generating app, and already kicked out, having this option can be a lifesaver).

That app is called "email"

Only if you capture their email address which isn't necessary for most apps.

I m surprised by the resilience of email as a communication channel. We need to extend it to carry notifications and ephemeral messages as well. There's no need to lock up tech behind the gates of google and apple

It's resilient because it's the only service that isn't centrally managed by one company, and anybody can federate and set up an e-mail system that communicates with all the other e-mail systems.

It's the same reason SMS is still around, because it's the only communications tool that can send a message to any cell phone.

And which Apple anyway can now prevent you from doing (by explicitly requiring Sign In with Apple and letting users turn off email forwarding).

I really don't like Apple and would never develop something in their store but I have to admit - at least a human called him and he had some dialog. If this was Google it would have been shut down without any recourse and probably taken the devs entire Google account with it.

This is probably the best thing that has ever happened to that app considering the amount of publicity it gets by spinning the issue.


Decision reversed. Link and title should be updated to reflect.

I love the reply

"9 minute review time after being held up for weeks..."


> fortunately, 90%+ of new subscribers now come through web, and this segment is growing rapidly

All i need to know. Why even have an app in the EvilStores?

Of the last 25 reviews, 24 are one star. Is there a tool for charting iOS App Store reviews over time to look for weird patterns?

I’ve not heard if this app before today but, going by the reviews, it seems pretty shady to have this available in the UK App Store when it can only help with US legal issues (which you don’t find out about until you’ve scanned your credit card and started a subscription).

This is true, but you don’t want to limit your app by country store. Plenty of Uk people moved to the us, and they still use the Uk App Store.

Okay, let's hear from the Apple fanatics on HN why this is a good move by Apple? After all, Apple can do no wrong :)

It was a good move because it was reversed.

As of now it appears to still be up: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/donotpay/id1427999657

they restored it after getting ashamed by public. Apple really sucks.

Imagine how many small time developers with just a couple hundred downloads have had their apps destroyed by apple, who couldn't call upon the twitter ion cannon to have someone important at apple see if the removal was actually warranted.

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