And you can pay less if you buy the same thing on Twitter’s or Facebook’s website.
Why should this be a secret? Good question.
The app stores from Apple and Google make it harder for you to be an informed consumer.
You might never know that you can’t buy an e-book in Amazon’s Kindle app. You might not discover that you could be paying less for a Tinder dating subscription on the company’s website instead of paying a higher price in the app.
It shouldn’t be this way, but apps keep you in the dark. This is one reason I’ve written that the app system is broken.
Let me explain Meta and Twitter’s tiny cracks in app secrecy and why there’s so much app information that is hidden.
This week, Facebook’s parent company said it is testing an option for a subscription with added features in Facebook and Instagram. Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler compared the Meta Verified subscription to a mobster protection racket because the company is charging extra for customer support and security that should be standard. Go read his column!
I zeroed in on a different detail in Meta’s public information: A subscription costs $11.99 a month if you buy it from the Facebook or Instagram websites and $14.99 if you buy from the iPhone and Android apps. (For now, Meta Verified is only available in Australia and New Zealand.)
The higher price in the apps accounts for the fees that companies owe app store owners Apple and Google when you buy something digital in an app like an online subscription, an e-book or a virtual weapon for a mobile game.
Some other apps also charge you more. An audiobook subscription from Amazon’s Audible is about $1 more a month if you pay in the app than if you buy on Audible’s website. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) A paid version of email provider Proton Mail costs about $30 less a year if you buy on the web than if you click buy in the app.
I’ll let you decide if it’s fair for rich companies like Amazon and Meta to make you pay more for the cost of doing business with other rich companies, Apple and Google.
The problem for you is that the in-app price differences are rarely made explicit. I know Audible costs more only because I’m constantly hunting for cost discrepancies in apps.
Apps like Amazon’s Kindle and Netflix that refuse to sell you anything in their apps — they don’t want to hand over fees to Apple and Google — also don’t make it loud and clear how you’re supposed to buy from them if not in the app. In customer reviews for Kindle’s iPhone app, many people were confused or annoyed that they couldn’t buy e-books in the app.
You can’t make smart buying decisions if you don’t have all the facts about buying in an app. And that’s mostly because Apple and Google force apps to keep quiet.
Their rules ban apps from telling you if there is a cheaper purchase option on the app maker’s website. If there’s no option to buy digital items in the app, Apple and Google limit what apps can tell you about where you can make those purchases.
Apple and Google say they make the rules in apps but apps are free to do what they want outside of them.
On app companies’ websites and in their marketing blitzes, I wonder if they could try harder to publicize when you might be better off (or have no choice) buying digital subscriptions anywhere other than an app.
In some written materials about the Twitter Blue subscription, the company discloses that its subscription costs $8 a month if you pay on Twitter.com or $11 in Twitter’s apps. Most people won’t read that blog post.
Would it be more helpful if Twitter had an ALL CAPS pitch on its website encouraging you to pay less for Twitter Blue if you buy the subscription online? Could Amazon’s website have a blaring banner that says you can only buy e-books there and not in Kindle’s apps?
My reading of Google’s app rules is that kind of truth-telling would be allowed. Apple’s rules are more strict about what app developers can tell their customers — even in emails and other communications with you.
If apps didn’t keep you in the dark about what it costs to pay for digital subscriptions in apps, you might make different choices.
When the Down Dog yoga app disclosed in its Android app that people could buy a lower-cost subscription on the company’s website instead, about 90 percent of people chose the cheaper price online instead of staying in the app, an executive testified in a 2021 court case.
Google no longer allows apps to tell you about cheaper prices outside the app. To my knowledge, Apple never allowed this.
To be fair, conventional retail stores hide information from you, too. Amazon doesn’t let Tide write in its product listings that its detergent costs less at Target. Walmart doesn’t say that it doesn’t sell your favorite ice cream but that Kroger does.
On the other hand, app stores don’t operate by retail rules. The only place you can download Spotify’s iPhone app is from Apple. You don’t have to buy Tide from Amazon.
There’s not a lot you can do about app secrecy. You gain power just from reading this information about apps’ hidden knowledge.
I’ve also written about my personal purchasing habits. When I’m buying something digital like an online fitness class or payments to a YouTube star, I take a moment to research whether I could pay less on the web than in the app. I also consider if I’d feel happier if the fitness company didn’t owe a commission from my purchase to Apple or Google.
One big promise of the digital age is that you have all the knowledge to make good choices about which mattress to buy or where to eat the best tacos. But bogus customer reviews, untrustworthy web search results and misleading ads sometimes leave you less informed. Apps that keep you in the dark are part of the problem, too.
Related reading: Here’s everything Apple won’t let you do with your iPhone
Hey, are you a schoolteacher? My colleague Heather Kelly is looking for elementary school teachers who are willing to help her with a project. If you have a few minutes to answer her question, please email Heather at email@example.com.
Speaking of app stores: Every time there is a cool new thing, you need to keep your eye out for look-alike apps that are not the real deal.
If you see something like a ChatGPT app, it is probably not what you’re looking for.
Recently, at least one app that seemed to be ChatGPT (but wasn’t) made its way to Apple’s iPhone app store before it was kicked out. A colleague told me this week about an app called “Chat GBT” — that’s one letter off — in Google’s Android app store.
After I asked Google about the one letter off chat app, it disappeared. But I saw other apps with “ChatGPT” in their name in Google’s app store. Again, these are not the real ChatGPT.
Before you download an app, try skimming the user reviews. There will often be red flags in the reviews if the app is an impostor.
You can try the genuine ChatGPT online here. ChatGPT is sometimes unavailable during peak hours, so you might hit a roadblock and need to try another time.
ChatGPT is also testing a paid version called ChatGPT Plus. That’s probably not what you want if you’re just curious to noodle around.
It’s your turn. Email me or use this form to let me know if you’ve found cheaper prices for your favorite digital subscription or revealed some tech secret that shouldn’t be a secret. We might feature your advice in a future edition of The Tech Friend.Their rules ban apps from telling you if there is a cheaper purchase option on the app maker’s website. If there’s no option to buy digital items in the app, Apple and Google limit what apps can tell you about where you can make those purchases.