Apple took API tools away from Hulu for upgrading subscriptions outside the App Store

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,961   +785
Staff member
In a nutshell: On Thursday, Epic revealed emails showing that Apple blacklisted Hulu from using its in-app subscription API in retaliation for using it to automatically cancel users and upgrade their plans through Hulu's website, circumventing the App Store commission.

As the fight between Epic Games and Apple drags out in court, the game maker continues to paint an ugly picture of its nemesis. On Wednesday, it presented evidence showing that when Apple could not get Netflix to reconsider its idea of removing in-app subscription purchases by offering special favors, it contemplated using "punitive" measures to influence the streamer's decision.

In 2015, back before Apple had upgrading options implemented in its in-app purchase (IAP) system, some developers, including Hulu, had access to a special subscription cancel/refund API. It was intended (by Apple) to be a way to cancel subscriptions to get customers on an upgraded 2-family plan. Hulu was using it for just that purpose, but somewhere between 2015 and 2018, it started using it to upgrade subscribers to its Live TV plan via the Hulu website. This deal was only for customers wanting the premium package. Regular subscribers still paid their monthly fees through Apple's system.

In 2018, David Barnard tweeted about it (above), pondering why he hadn't seen more companies taking advantage of that. Phil Schiller saw it and presumably asked Matt Fischer, vice president of the App Store, "What's going on?" Fischer emailed the Director of Program Management Cindy Lin to look into it. Lin pulled Vice President of Marketing Pete Distad and App Store Business Management Director Carson Oliver into the email conversation.

Distad had been the senior vice president of marketing and communications at Hulu before coming to Apple, but he could not shed any light on the situation. After further discussion, Oliver concludes the email thread by saying, "I think we need to take immediate steps to protect against further misuse of the API."

3.1.1 In-App Purchase:

  • If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.

So it banned Hulu from using the API. It also changed its guidelines to prohibit developers from using external means to subscribe or upgrade subscriptions (see Section 3.1.1 above).

Apple has maintained that developers are free to use external subscription methods with the stipulation that they do not promote those methods within their apps. In Hulu's case, that rule did not yet exist. One can contend that it was Hulu that triggered Apple to enact that policy.

However, what Epic wants to argue here is that Apple took punitive action against Hulu for breaking a rule that did not exist at the time. It intends to use Hulu as an example of how Apple exercises its power to get developers to pay never-ending App Store fees for content it does not own, store, or maintain.

Image credit: Natmac Stock

Permalink to story.

 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,490   +1,087
Apple do not have any form of monopoly. So if you don’t like their products and/or practises then don’t buy them.

Same goes for corporations. If you don’t like their terms and conditions, don’t launch your product on their marketplace.

Absolutely no one is forced to use Apple.
 

m4a4

Posts: 2,341   +2,620
TechSpot Elite
Apple do not have any form of monopoly. So if you don’t like their products and/or practises then don’t buy them.

Same goes for corporations. If you don’t like their terms and conditions, don’t launch your product on their marketplace.

Absolutely no one is forced to use Apple.
On the iDevice mobile platform, they are a monopoly. They are the only one that controls everything about the platform. And one that engages in anti-competitive practices (as shown above) and anti-consumer practices (which includes making it unreasonably hard to leave the ecosystem).

It would be like if Windows 10 all of a sudden required you to only purchase and download apps from their Microsoft Store, and you said "well, go to Linux or Mac, no one forces you to use Microsoft". That's a ridiculous argument here when it's such a big platform.

Take your blinders off and actually think about what is happening. Do you really want a precedence set where a big tech company can engage in anti-competition practices to push out competition because they dictate terms that they themselves don't have to follow? Does that benefit you, the consumer?
 

Cubi Dorf

Posts: 333   +219
When choice is between anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company and google, I chose anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company. It is the less of two evil. Not much of a choice in my opinions.


Apple do not have any form of monopoly. So if you don’t like their products and/or practises then don’t buy them.

Same goes for corporations. If you don’t like their terms and conditions, don’t launch your product on their marketplace.

Absolutely no one is forced to use Apple.
 

dangh

Posts: 227   +292
When choice is between anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company and google, I chose anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company. It is the less of two evil. Not much of a choice in my opinions.
That's fine, people often choose being slaves for illusion of safety. Thankfully when Apple will allow 3rd party stores you won't have to use them.
 

Athlonite

Posts: 237   +83
You can bet your bottom dollar that should Apple ever allow sideloading of aps it will come at the expense of your warranty should you choose to sideload an ap instead of using the ap from the official apple ap store and you strike a problem apple will simply absolve itself of all responsibility by voiding the warranty
 

m4a4

Posts: 2,341   +2,620
TechSpot Elite
You can bet your bottom dollar that should Apple ever allow sideloading of aps it will come at the expense of your warranty should you choose to sideload an ap instead of using the ap from the official apple ap store and you strike a problem apple will simply absolve itself of all responsibility by voiding the warranty
That would be illegal. Just like the "break this tape voids your warranty". Sure, they might try to get away with it, but there's already precedence against such scummy practices.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnuson–Moss_Warranty_Act
 

duckofdeath

Posts: 359   +452
When choice is between anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company and google, I chose anticompetitive overly controlling abusing company. It is the less of two evil. Not much of a choice in my opinions.
I think, we're observing the classic Stockholm Syndrome here...
 

NeoMorpheus

Posts: 504   +967
(which includes making it unreasonably hard to leave the ecosystem).

Tell me about thst one.

Someone I know that started using iCloud Keychain let me realize that apple doesn’t let you access those passwords if you dont have an apple device.

They dont allow you to access them on icloud, neither export them.

I am glad I never used that (Bitwarden FTW).
 

Irata

Posts: 1,433   +2,315
Apple do not have any form of monopoly. So if you don’t like their products and/or practises then don’t buy them.

Same goes for corporations. If you don’t like their terms and conditions, don’t launch your product on their marketplace.

Absolutely no one is forced to use Apple.

Apple is great at creating customer lock in and the issue is more about vendors and less about end users.

So, you create mobile software but you don‘t want want to use Apple‘s or Google‘s app store....where do you offer this instead and still make money ?

Also, customers paid for their devices in full - they are not cheaper subsidized ones like e.g. consoles and Amazon devices. Why should they not be able to buy software and services the way they like ? It‘s not like Apple and Google will pay for any damages caused by dodgy software installed via their stores.
 

Cubi Dorf

Posts: 333   +219
I don’t want to stop using apple. I just want them to stop being jerk. I want them to be awesome company to go along with awesome product. Unfortunately they are not volunteering so courts are need to make them behaving. I like apple, but I support court forcing them stop being jerk.

That's fine, people often choose being slaves for illusion of safety. Thankfully when Apple will allow 3rd party stores you won't have to use them.