ProtonMail Compares Apple to Mafia, Says App Was Forced Into In-App Purchases in 2018

Apple's dispute with "HEY" wasn't the first time the Cupertino company tried to force an email app into adding in-app purchases, according to ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen.

protonmail
Yen told The Verge that back in 2018, ProtonMail was forced to add in-app purchases to its app, which had been in the App Store since 2016. ProtonMail at the time had a paid email service but did not offer it in the app, with the ‌App Store‌ version being available for free.

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.

Apple apparently told ProtonMail "out of the blue" that it was required to add an in-app purchase option to stay in the ‌App Store‌. Similar to the situations with HEY and Wordpress earlier this year, ProtonMail had a mention of paid plans in the app, which prompted Apple to ask for the same subscription options to be offered via in-app purchase.

Yen says that ProtonMail complied in order to save its business, complaining that there's no way to get a "fair hearing" with Apple. ProtonMail was unable to update the app for a month-long period, and Apple threatened to remove the app from the store if the company did not comply.

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.

When in-app purchases were implemented on iOS, ProtonMail raised the prices for a subscription through Apple by 26 percent to pay for the extra cost as it was unable to pay for the extra 30 percent margin.

Yen believes Apple's 30 percent fee harms privacy-centric apps because it's difficult for a paid app to compete with free apps like Gmail while also having to pay ‌App Store‌ frees.

Apple in September changed its App Store rules to avoid situations like the dispute with ProtonMail. Apps are now allowed to offer free standalone apps that are companions to paid web-based tools without an in-app purchase requirement, and there's also a new process that lets developers challenge App Store rules and decisions.

Following Apple's ‌App Store‌ rule change, Yen told The Verge that ProtonMail plans to remove its in-app purchase options, but he's wary of Apple's new rules and will test out the changes on another app, ProtonDrive, ahead of time. Apple in a statement to The Verge said that it "doesn't retaliate against developers" and instead "works with them to get their apps on the store."

ProtonMail is one of the participants in the "Coalition for App Fairness," a group advocating for "freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem." Members include other companies disgruntled with Apple's ‌App Store‌ practices, including Spotify, Epic Games, Tile, and Basecamp (the makers of HEY).

Top Rated Comments

Hurmoth Avatar
13 months ago
I thoroughly enjoy using Apple products, but I'm not beholden enough to any one tech company that I cannot see when they're in the wrong. Just like the Apple/Epic case, both sides are wrong for their actions.

Less fanboys and more level-headed thinkers is what we need in the world.
Score: 47 Votes (Like | Disagree)
justperry Avatar
13 months ago

The complaining and whining is meaningless when Yen does what he says he think is unreasonable. If you don’t like what Apple says, then do something different.

These after the fact cry babies are nothing but noise.
Apple changed the rules, there was no problem for a few years, so calling them cry babies is unfair imo.

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.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
69Mustang Avatar
13 months ago

So, Yen wants Apple to provide distribution, promotion, hosting/CDN, dev tools, etc for his app but he wants it all for free, while monetizing the app outside the store?
Ok then, sure, no problem.
Everything you mentioned is covered by the dev fee, so it ain't all free. According to Yen, Apple was fine with the relationship until Proton Mail gained some notoriety and then came looking to cash in. Now how accurate is Yen's version? Idk, and Apple hasn't said anything one way or the other. They did change their policy. Read into that what you will. Regardless, your description of the situation remains inaccurate.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
69Mustang Avatar
13 months ago

The complaining and whining is meaningless when Yen does what he says he think is unreasonable. If you don’t like what Apple says, then do something different.

These after the fact cry babies are nothing but noise.
You either didn't read the article or didn't understand what you read. Apple has changed it's stance requiring IAP in the apps, so it's seems there was a bit more there than nothing but noise.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AngerDanger Avatar
13 months ago
That’s a bit rich coming from ProtonMail when they’ve apparently been holding the blue iPhone 11 hostage!
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Squuiid Avatar
13 months ago
So, Yen wants Apple to provide distribution, promotion, hosting/CDN, dev tools, etc for his app but he wants it all for free, while monetizing the app outside the store?
Ok then, sure, no problem.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

timcookantitrust

Tim Cook 'Practicing for Hours' Ahead of Epic Games Testimony Expected This Week

Monday May 17, 2021 4:17 am PDT by
So far, Apple CEO Tim Cook has taken a backseat in defending Apple as it faces a significant legal battle with Epic Games regarding the App Store. While the CEO has commented on the platform in the past, for the first time this week, Tim Cook will take center stage in his company's battle with Epic Games. Apple in March submitted its list of executives that will testify during the trial...
apple app store page

Apple Exec: We Feature Competitors' Apps 'All The Time' on the App Store

Friday May 7, 2021 5:05 am PDT by
On May 3, the Epic Games vs. Apple trial got underway, and every day, new emails between Apple executives and employees continue to be shared by Epic as evidence for its case against Apple. In the latest batch of emails, the vice president of the App Store, Matt Fischer, claims that Apple features apps made by its competitors "all the time" on the store and rejects the sentiment that it...
app store blue banner uk

UK Class Action Accuses Apple of Breaking Competition Law by Overcharging for Apps

Tuesday May 11, 2021 12:54 am PDT by
A new legal case filed with the U.K.'s Competition Appeal Tribunal has accused Apple of breaching competition law by overcharging nearly 20 million customers for App Store purchases. The collective action case alleges Apple's 30% commission on app sales and consumers' forced use of its own payment processing system generates "unlawfully excessive levels of profit," and calls for the company...
app store review scam

App Store Scam App Required a Good Review to Function at All

Wednesday May 26, 2021 7:21 am PDT by
An app that demanded at least a three-star review to function got through the App Store review process, it has been found (via The Verge). iOS developer Kosta Eleftheriou discovered that the "UPNP Xtreme" app, which claimed to let users stream video to a TV, presented the system's App Store rating box as soon as it opened. The rating box could not be escaped from and it was not possible to...
fortnite apple featured

Apple Earned Over $100 Million From Fortnite

Wednesday May 19, 2021 12:02 pm PDT by
Apple collected more than $100 million in revenue from the 30 percent cut that it takes from Fortnite in-app purchases, according to testimony provided by App Store gaming business development head Michael Schmid, who shared the detail in the ongoing Epic v. Apple trial. As noted by Bloomberg, Schmid offered the $100 million figure as a rough estimate, and declined to provide a specific...
app store blue banner spotfiy

Spotify Calls Apple's App Store Restrictions 'An Abusive Power Grab'

Wednesday April 21, 2021 4:24 pm PDT by
At an App Store antitrust hearing that took place today, Spotify and Match Group (the company behind Tinder) accused Apple of abusing its App Store powers to to disadvantage rival services, reports Bloomberg. Spotify chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez said that Apple's rules are "nothing more than an abusive power grab." "Apple abuses its dominant position as a gatekeeper of the App Store...
tile amazon sidewalk integration

Apple Says Tile Trackers Sold Poorly in Apple Stores

Friday May 14, 2021 4:53 am PDT by
Earlier last month, Spotify, Tile, and Match (owner of Tinder), testified at an app store antitrust hearing spearheaded by the U.S. Senate. During the hearing, Spotify called Apple's App Store "an abusive power grab," while Tile said Apple uses its platform to "unfairly limit competition for its products." Now, in response to their testimonies, Apple's vice president and chief compliance...
Apple vs Spotify feature2

Spotify Executive Justifies Antitrust Pressure on Apple and Calls for Other App Store Payment Providers

Tuesday June 1, 2021 9:05 am PDT by
Spotify executive Horacio Gutierrez has explained in a wide-reaching interview with The Verge why the company believes Apple is a "ruthless bully" and what it would like to see change. Last month, Gutierrez penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that chastised Apple and some of its business practices. Now, Spotify's head of global affairs and chief legal officer has expanded on the logic ...
app store blue banner

Judge Grills Tim Cook on App Store Policies as End of of Epic Games v. Apple Trial Approaches

Friday May 21, 2021 12:48 pm PDT by
Apple CEO Tim Cook testified in the Epic Games v. Apple trial today, and some of the final questioning by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers did not appear to go in Apple's favor. She spent several minutes grilling Cook on Apple's App Store policies and some of the statements that he made. "You said you want to give users control, so what's the problem with allowing users to have a cheaper option...
fortnite apple logo 2

Judge in Epic vs. Apple Case Floats Potential Compromise

Wednesday May 12, 2021 3:54 pm PDT by
In the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, the two companies are this week calling up their expert witnesses to argue their points before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will make a decision in the case after a three week trial. Expert testimony is not as exciting as some of the leaked App Store documents that were highlighted last week, especially as much of what's being...