one app developer revealed to Congress that it — just like WordPress — had been forced to monetize a largely free app. That developer testified that Apple had demanded in-app purchases (IAP), even though Apple had approved its app without them two years earlier — and that when the dev dared send an email to customers notifying them of the change, Apple threatened to remove the app and blocked all updates.
That developer was ProtonMail, makers of an encrypted email app, and CEO Andy Yen had some fiery words for Apple in an interview with The Verge this week.
We’ve known for months that WordPress and Hey weren’t alone in being strong-armed by the most valuable company in the world, ever since Stratechery’s Ben Thompson reported that 21 different app developers quietly told him they’d been pushed to retroactively add IAP in the wake of those two controversies. But until now, we hadn’t heard of many devs willing to publicly admit it. They were scared.
And they’re still scared, says Yen. Even though Apple changed its rules on September 11th to exempt “free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web based tool” from the IAP requirement — Apple explicitly said email apps are exempt — ProtonMail still hasn’t removed its own in-app purchases because it fears retaliation from Apple, he says.
He claims other developers feel the same way: “There’s a lot of fear in the space right now; people are completely petrified to say anything.”
He might know. ProtonMail is one of the founding partners of the Coalition for App Fairness, a group that also includes Epic Games, Spotify, Tile, Match, and others who banded together to protest Apple’s rules after having those rules used against them. It’s a group that tried to pull together as many developers as it could to form a united front, but some weren’t as ready to risk Apple’s wrath.
That’s clearly not the case for Yen, though — in our interview, he compares Apple’s tactics to a Mafia protection racket.
“For the first two years we were in the App Store, that was fine, no issues there,” he says. (They’d launched on iOS in 2016.) “But a common practice we see … as you start getting significant uptake in uploads and downloads, they start looking at your situation more carefully, and then as any good Mafia extortion goes, they come to shake you down for some money.”
“We didn’t offer a paid version in the App Store, it was free to download … it wasn’t like Epic where you had an alternative payment option, you couldn’t pay at all,” he relates.
Yen says Apple’s demand came suddenly in 2018. “Out of the blue, one day they said you have to add in-app purchase to stay in the App Store,” he says. “They stumbled upon something in the app that mentioned there were paid plans, they went to the website and saw there was a subscription you could purchase, and then turned around and demanded we add IAP.”
“There’s nothing you can say to that. They are judge, jury, and executioner on their platform, and you can take it or leave it. You can’t get any sort of fair hearing to determine whether it’s justifiable or not justifiable, anything they say goes.”
This is what monopolies will do for you. I have been talking about how big tech is involved in this since 2019 and it’s good to see it finally really coming out of the woodwork