ProtonMail CEO calls Apple's forced in-app purchases 'Mafia extortion'

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,631   +614
Staff member
Why it matters: Encrypted email provider ProtonMail says that Apple forced it to monetize its app, which was on the App Store for more than two years without in-app purchases. It also claims that when it tried to inform its customers of the sudden change, Apple blocked it from posting app updates and threatened to remove it from the store.

Apple has been facing a lot of heat lately regarding its walled garden policies. This week the stove got turned up another notch. Not only did a former App Store exec accuse the company of using its rules as "weapons" against competitors, but a developer also claims that it was forced to add in-app purchases to its app when it had been free for years.

ProtonMail's CEO Andy Yen says that his company is not the only one to suffer Apple's "strong-armed" tactics, but others have been afraid to speak out about it.

"There's a lot of fear in the space right now; people are completely petrified to say anything," Yen told The Verge on Thursday. "For the first two years we were in the App Store, that was fine, no issues there. But a common practice we see ... as you start getting significant uptake in uploads and downloads ... then as any good Mafia extortion goes, they come to shake you down for some money."

That shakedown came in 2018, according to Yen. Up until that point, the app was completely free. It wasn't a situation like what is going on between Apple and Epic right now, he insists. Unlike Fortnite, the app never had any in-app purchase whatsoever.

"Out of the blue, one day they said you have to add in-app purchase to stay in the App Store. 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. We simply complied in order to save our business."

Yen says the company was forced to raise its prices since the 30-percent commission that Apple takes completely ate away ProtonMail's profit margins.

Apple responded, saying that free companion apps to paid online services are no longer required to have in-app purchases as of September 11, 2020. As long as paid upgrades are not offered through the app and it has no notifications to customers about an external subscription service, everything is fine.

When Yen was told of this, he said that he would definitely try taking out in-app purchases from ProtonMail, but not before first testing the policy using the company's upcoming ProtonDrive app. He says he does not trust Apple's rules enough, and how it enforces them, to risk the already-establish email app, which Apple previously leveraged with update blocking and threats of removal to force the in-app purchases in the first place.

It is worth mentioning that ProtonMail is one of the founding members of the Coalition for App Fairness. It, along with various partners, including Microsoft, Epic Games, Spotify, and others, are looking to level the competitive playing field regarding in-app purchases, fees, and anti-competitive policies. Apple has been the Coalition's primary target, but it has criticized Google as well.

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Angga B

Posts: 99   +91
The easiest way to break this kind of practice for the regulator to force OS creator to allow app sideload. Windows allows it. Android allows it. That's why these two could not really force developers to abide to their tyrannical rules, if any. But rather these two have to try their best to "sell" their marketplace to the developers that the marketplace would be beneficial to both the developers and the customers, improve trusts and engagements between them, and so on, which in the end helping to boost the developers app sales. Win win solution for all parties.

The way Apple do, is their own way or the highway and they must be the sole beneficiary of all kind of relationship. The most toxic kind of relationship ever.

Just look here to illustrate my points:
 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 3,559   +2,450
Something doesn't add up.... ProtonMail claims their app was completely free - and Apple forced them to go IAP... YET.... they also say they had to raise their prices, as the 30% commission was eating away their profit margins...

Anyone else see the flaw in their argument?

ProtonMail had a SEPARATE subscription service that they were charging for - and Apple wasn't getting a cut despite being the ones to host the app!

Clearly Apple should be entitled to a %....

But definitely a nice spin taken here by the writer...
 

Cubi Dorf

Posts: 256   +123
I think they have premium service you can paying for. The app is just a one way to accessing the service. The app is not the service. it is just optional way to accessing rather than use web browser.

Something doesn't add up.... ProtonMail claims their app was completely free - and Apple forced them to go IAP... YET.... they also say they had to raise their prices, as the 30% commission was eating away their profit margins...

Anyone else see the flaw in their argument?

ProtonMail had a SEPARATE subscription service that they were charging for - and Apple wasn't getting a cut despite being the ones to host the app!

Clearly Apple should be entitled to a %....

But definitely a nice spin taken here by the writer...
 

lipe123

Posts: 944   +519
Something doesn't add up.... ProtonMail claims their app was completely free - and Apple forced them to go IAP... YET.... they also say they had to raise their prices, as the 30% commission was eating away their profit margins...

Anyone else see the flaw in their argument?

ProtonMail had a SEPARATE subscription service that they were charging for - and Apple wasn't getting a cut despite being the ones to host the app!

Clearly Apple should be entitled to a %....

But definitely a nice spin taken here by the writer...
Re-read please.

Apple forced them to add their paid services in the app. So apple could get a 30% cut on all sales made meaning they lost their profit margin.

Initially apple allowed them to do the same thing Netflix does, you cant buy a subscription though the app and then after 2 years changed their stance.
 

Ludak021

Posts: 304   +218
Something doesn't add up.... ProtonMail claims their app was completely free - and Apple forced them to go IAP... YET.... they also say they had to raise their prices, as the 30% commission was eating away their profit margins...

Anyone else see the flaw in their argument?

ProtonMail had a SEPARATE subscription service that they were charging for - and Apple wasn't getting a cut despite being the ones to host the app!

Clearly Apple should be entitled to a %....

But definitely a nice spin taken here by the writer...
they (apple) aren't hosting their (proton) servers, they are hosting couple of megabytes which is just API.
Now I am not saying anything about "cuts", that's for lawyers and such.
 
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Something doesn't add up.... ProtonMail claims their app was completely free - and Apple forced them to go IAP... YET.... they also say they had to raise their prices, as the 30% commission was eating away their profit margins...

Anyone else see the flaw in their argument?

ProtonMail had a SEPARATE subscription service that they were charging for - and Apple wasn't getting a cut despite being the ones to host the app!

Clearly Apple should be entitled to a %....

But definitely a nice spin taken here by the writer...
You don't know what you're talking about. ProtonMail has Tiers of service the first one is a 2GB email account that is completely free, and what he's talking about in the article.
 
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bexwhitt

Posts: 508   +208
The easiest way to break this kind of practice for the regulator to force OS creator to allow app sideload. Windows allows it. Android allows it. That's why these two could not really force developers to abide to their tyrannical rules, if any. But rather these two have to try their best to "sell" their marketplace to the developers that the marketplace would be beneficial to both the developers and the customers, improve trusts and engagements between them, and so on, which in the end helping to boost the developers app sales. Win win solution for all parties.

The way Apple do, is their own way or the highway and they must be the sole beneficiary of all kind of relationship. The most toxic kind of relationship ever.

Just look here to illustrate my points:
The problem with IOS allowing side loading is about 50% of click happy kids (I.e. *****s as we all were" in the US have iPhones along with a myriad of the tech nieve. IOS would soon become a cesspool if it became a free for all.
Apple need to cut their take like all the other virtual stores who take 30% it's excessive.
 

Reehahs

Posts: 1,014   +629
"Apple responded, saying that free companion apps to paid online services are no longer required to have in-app purchases as of September 11, 2020. As long as paid upgrades are not offered through the app and it has no notifications to customers about an external subscription service, everything is fine."

The recent date seems like Apple is having second thoughts. The second statement is definitely fishy.
 

negroplasty

Posts: 524   +26
A company that intentionally slow down devices through software update would never do such thing.
This always makes me laugh. Couple things about that:

1. This is done to devices with older, more worn in, batteries to prevent the device from shutting down under load (look up how Apple devices get 5+ years of updates and hardware support vs 2 years on Android if you're lucky; need I mention having to wait 6 months to a year for feature updates. Surely that must be done intentionally to make devices obsolete faster and sell more units, right?). iOS throttling due to unhealthy batteries is still a thing today, with the added option of being able to turn it off; unfortunately most conspiracy theorists don't understand half the context on that matter, yet they're here to tell us how it all works. Sure, it should have been an option from the beginning. A conspiracy? Give me a break. If you had this kind of longevity on an Android set, you'd have the same problem in higher prevalence, and likely a far less methodical approach at remediation due to the infinite fragmentation of the Android handset market.

2. You'd be the first comment on another thread hollering the opposite were Apple to follow your advice; you'd argue that Apple should be doing whatever possible to prevent your phone shutting down in the middle of something as important as an emergency call. What would you prefer; a phone that is slightly slower to respond or a hard reboot in the middle of calling emergency services?

I'm not an Android hater; I'm just venting some of the frustrations I've had in that camp over the years. I used to build my own customized versions of Android straight from the AOSP source clear through the Nexus line (killed a few SSDs doing it), and even into some OnePlus devices before I got tired of waiting Google's approach to building a platform to work coherently. Android is just not my platform of choice on mobile anymore, and it's got a long way to go if that's going to change. Apple telling folks with old and unstable batteries they need a new device or a new battery doesn't sound unreasonable to me... some of these folks would have been through their second Android phone in the same time, whether it be due to lack of security updates / OS obsolescence / hardware failure; you're upset they need a battery?
 

Angga B

Posts: 99   +91
The problem with IOS allowing side loading is about 50% of click happy kids (I.e. *****s as we all were" in the US have iPhones along with a myriad of the tech nieve. IOS would soon become a cesspool if it became a free for all.
Apple need to cut their take like all the other virtual stores who take 30% it's excessive.
Pardon me for missing your point.

The very idea is to let users to determine their own fate. Will they take chances and ruin the "sanctity" of their device, or they just want to stay happily inside the premium garden forever ever after. It's up to them.
 
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pmshah

Posts: 137   +17
I wouldn't go that far. Unless of course they threatened to break your legs or shoot you. I however wouldn't be surprised if they did !!!
 

pmshah

Posts: 137   +17
This always makes me laugh. Couple things about that:

1. This is done to devices with older, more worn in, batteries to prevent the device from shutting down under load (look up how Apple devices get 5+ years of updates and hardware support vs 2 years on Android if you're lucky; need I mention having to wait 6 months to a year for feature updates. Surely that must be done intentionally to make devices obsolete faster and sell more units, right?). iOS throttling due to unhealthy batteries is still a thing today, with the added option of being able to turn it off; unfortunately most conspiracy theorists don't understand half the context on that matter, yet they're here to tell us how it all works. Sure, it should have been an option from the beginning. A conspiracy? Give me a break. If you had this kind of longevity on an Android set, you'd have the same problem in higher prevalence, and likely a far less methodical approach at remediation due to the infinite fragmentation of the Android handset market.

2. You'd be the first comment on another thread hollering the opposite were Apple to follow your advice; you'd argue that Apple should be doing whatever possible to prevent your phone shutting down in the middle of something as important as an emergency call. What would you prefer; a phone that is slightly slower to respond or a hard reboot in the middle of calling emergency services?

I'm not an Android hater; I'm just venting some of the frustrations I've had in that camp over the years. I used to build my own customized versions of Android straight from the AOSP source clear through the Nexus line (killed a few SSDs doing it), and even into some OnePlus devices before I got tired of waiting Google's approach to building a platform to work coherently. Android is just not my platform of choice on mobile anymore, and it's got a long way to go if that's going to change. Apple telling folks with old and unstable batteries they need a new device or a new battery doesn't sound unreasonable to me... some of these folks would have been through their second Android phone in the same time, whether it be due to lack of security updates / OS obsolescence / hardware failure; you're upset they need a battery?
Regardless of ALL your arguments what about the fact that when an apple device gets bricked due to updating of OS & no fault on part of the user there is no way to rcover it like reverting to previous working state. I was one such victim of their effed up 11.4 update just like thousands of others. Go check Apple's own forum. FYI My 10, 8 & 4 year old Android phones are still fully functional maybe with shorter standby time but still with original batteries.
 
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lazer

Posts: 360   +106
One of the things I don't like about Apple is the choice of apps. with android, much is free and there are just sosoooo many!

Also I have problems finding a mp3 player to work with my iPhone, I gotta up it to the cloud and then drop it down to my phone, then I can play it, but I can't just move it from my computer directly to my iPhone like I can do with android.

Maybe some one out there has a solution for hearing mp3's on iPhone?
 

pmshah

Posts: 137   +17
One of the things I don't like about Apple is the choice of apps. with android, much is free and there are just sosoooo many!

Also I have problems finding a mp3 player to work with my iPhone, I gotta up it to the cloud and then drop it down to my phone, then I can play it, but I can't just move it from my computer directly to my iPhone like I can do with android.

Maybe some one out there has a solution for hearing mp3's on iPhone?
I can't save my pdf email attachments like my plane ticket or boarding pass. Can't read email unless connected to the internet. Can't read ebooks on the device itself or on attached pen drive unless it came through their effing server. Can't access/play media files on network drives. Can't recover devices bricked by the OS upgrade process. The battery indictor drops from 100% to 0 % instantly !!! Stupid thing won't even charge if powered off. Who needs that crApple device?
 
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negroplasty

Posts: 524   +26
Regardless of ALL your arguments what about the fact that when an apple device gets bricked due to updating of OS & no fault on part of the user there is no way to rcover it like reverting to previous working state. I was one such victim of their effed up 11.4 update just like thousands of others. Go check Apple's own forum. FYI My 10, 8 & 4 year old Android phones are still fully functional maybe with shorter standby time but still with original batteries.
Again, it's hard to brick a device with an OS update if it stops getting them.

Also, are you referring to a DFU mode restore?

 
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pmshah

Posts: 137   +17
Again, it's hard to brick a device with an OS update if it stops getting them.

Also, are you referring to a DFU mode restore?

But how do I do it if the stupid thing won't even allow charging of the battery via original charger and cable? The "bitten apple" keeps appearing and disappearing and the battery level does not go beyond 1 %? And then even that red outline shape pf the battery disappears and the display simply goes black. Then again I have to go out and buy a MAC? BTW my daughter tried that too on her latest Mac Air or what ever the latest model was available in Jan 2020. No joy. And of course crAppl;e will never have anything that can work on a Windows PC.

I got my iPad to video chat with my 7 & 9 year old grand daughters on their iPods. Now we have graduated to Google Meet. Works like a charm without any installation on my 32" monitor.
 

negroplasty

Posts: 524   +26
But how do I do it if the stupid thing won't even allow charging of the battery via original charger and cable? The "bitten apple" keeps appearing and disappearing and the battery level does not go beyond 1 %? And then even that red outline shape pf the battery disappears and the display simply goes black. Then again I have to go out and buy a MAC? BTW my daughter tried that too on her latest Mac Air or what ever the latest model was available in Jan 2020. No joy. And of course crAppl;e will never have anything that can work on a Windows PC.

I got my iPad to video chat with my 7 & 9 year old grand daughters on their iPods. Now we have graduated to Google Meet. Works like a charm without any installation on my 32" monitor.
That sounds rough. Make sure there's no lint or debris in your lightning port. Try and leaving it plugged into a known good charger and cable overnight so it has an opportunity juice up to a decent level before trying again. You ought to be able to do the same thing on PC provided iTunes is up to date, but I won't pretend Apple tests their software as diligently on Windows... they definitely don't; iTunes on Windows has always been a disaster. If you don't have the opportunity to give it another try on a Mac, the best advice I can give you is to make an appointment at an Apple Store (Crapple Store, if you will). While the device isn't supported anymore, if you explain the situation I'm sure they would be willing to plug it into one of their machines in the back and attempt a firmware restore for you. You might not like Apple, but they have real human beings working in their stores and they're not all bad.
 
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pmshah

Posts: 137   +17
That sounds rough. Make sure there's no lint or debris in your lightning port. Try and leaving it plugged into a known good charger and cable overnight so it has an opportunity juice up to a decent level before trying again. You ought to be able to do the same thing on PC provided iTunes is up to date, but I won't pretend Apple tests their software as diligently on Windows... they definitely don't; iTunes on Windows has always been a disaster. If you don't have the opportunity to give it another try on a Mac, the best advice I can give you is to make an appointment at an Apple Store (Crapple Store, if you will). While the device isn't supported anymore, if you explain the situation I'm sure they would be willing to plug it into one of their machines in the back and attempt a firmware restore for you. You might not like Apple, but they have real human beings working in their stores and they're not all bad.
These stores are even bigger disaster. The battery on my wife's iPad sort of just died. We took it to their official store for battery replacement. They offered to "exchange" the whole unit for the same model for US$ 300/- equivalent. This when I could easily buy 3 generation newer and brand new current model iPad for around US$ 250/- on Amazon. They NEVER want to provide service. They just want to sell and get your money. My daughter was gifted an iPod by a friend. It conked out in about 7 months. Apple just replaced the device. This also failed in 6 months. This happened after say 13 months of original purchase. No repairs and no assistance. She just threw it in garbage. She does not like "bricks".