Apple cracks down on users who abuse the 14-day return policy for digital content in Europe

By , Jan 12, 2015

give up return policy right

Users looking to abuse Apple’s new 14-day return policy for digital purchases in Europe will be in for a bad surprise, as the company has apparently been taking measures against those that want to dishonestly take advantage of the system.

According to one account from a user who had been abusing the return policy by downloading a dozen apps and requesting refunds after “trialing” them, Apple quickly caught up to the scheme and is now warning him he won’t be eligible for refunds for newly purchased applications.

One reader explains that when Apple introduced the new 14-day return policy, he started treating this policy as a trial period of some sort. After spending about $40 in various apps to trial, he was able to get $25 refunded, but Apple took notice of his behavior and a message popping up in the App Store now warns him that he will no longer be eligible for refunds on new purchases.

More specifically, the message asks for the user to acknowledge he’s giving up his right to a refund every time he wants to buy a new application: “I acknowledge that if I download this app within fourteen days of tapping ‘Buy”, I will no longer be eligible to cancel this purchase.” At that point, the user can cancel or confirm by tapping the Buy button.

The return policy for the UK specifically mentions the following, showing that Apple did foresee such a scenario:

Exception to the right of cancellation: You cannot cancel your order for the supply of digital content if the delivery has started upon your request and acknowledgement that you thereby lose your cancellation right.

Of course, abusing the return policy for unscrupulous use of apps or other digital content at no cost is a questionable practice that we do not approve of.

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  • Fanboy 

    This is terrible for developers. But then again, if all developers would simply make a trail version of their apps, then there would be absolutely no reason for refunds once purchased.

    • jameskatt

      Certainly developers can create lite versions of their app – even for free. But Apple doesn’t allow trialware in the iOS App store.

      • RF9

        Many developers use in app purchases to unlock the full app after allowing it as a free trial. They can’t do time bombs but they can offer a taste of the features with a paid full unlock. I’d prefer most do this,

    • eorpach

      This is no more terrible for App Developers than any other kind of online trader. EU law has always allowed EU consumers 14 days to return something purchased online for any reason whatsoever and to get a full refund. Those are the laws of doing business in Europe; App Developers are just late to the party.

      Apple’s crack-down may in fact be unlawful; what the quoted UK return policy says is not relevant – if it contradicts EU law then it’s illegal.

      The new EU law is designed to protect consumers from being stuck with a digital good that is non-refundable, NOT to protect Apple’s revenue stream. The law does not apply less (or more) depending on how much it is exercised by an EU citizen.

      An EU consumer may return a product within 14 days for ANY REASON WHATSOEVER. It’s in Apple’s interest to figure out how to effect a “return” of the App if they so request, not the consumer’s obligation.

      • thomg875

        Then Apple should just refuse to let said account buy any more apps. Or is that also unlawful in the EU? A company, no matter what the size, should have some right to guard against misuse.

      • eorpach

        Apple are free, like any company, to terminate as contract with an existing user of their App Store in accordance with the terms and conditions between the parties. That’s why Apple makes each user agree to terms and conditions in the first place.

      • julie hermiz

        I totally agree with you. Sometimes you might purchase a song track after listening to a short sample only to buy it and then realise that it’s not the version that you were after or that the song is interrupted by the singer chatting away. This new restriction is absolutely unworkable as it means you have to wait 14 days before you can listen to a track to decide you don’t like it after all then request a refund.

  • Skits

    Apple is in violation of EU Law by doing this and will be taken to court and reprimanded very soon.

    • That clause in the Return Policy that I quote towards the end of the post is here to prevent Apple from abusers. I’m sure this is all worked out under EU laws.

      • eorpach

        @Sebastian: That’s a rather large assumption. And one borne out to be incorrect time and time again. Including regarding Apple. Case in point, their breach of EU law over the sale of AppleCare, and the fines they were handed by Italy as a result.

        The bigger point is that the law is there to protect consumers from purchasing something that doesn’t live up to their expectations and to allow them to return it within 14 days “FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER”. The law is not concerned with safeguarding Apple’s revenue stream, nor should it be. It’s pro-consumer. The responsibility is on Apple to better curate what is sold on their European App Stores if they are finding themselves in need of “protection” from this law.

      • isitjustme

        Yes being a thief is ok in the EU because the law condone it with its 14 day return policy.

      • eorpach

        A thief? Based on your assumption that US anti-consumer laws should apply wherever in the world an American company decides to do business? How arrogant. EU law applies because these transactions occur in the EU. There is no question of theft, and on behalf of 500 million consumers, I’ll thank you to keep your ignorant and slanderous point of view to yourself.

      • Wireboy

        This has nothing whatsoever to do with US law. The behavior of downloading content and then requesting a refund for the download in an attempt to use the product without paying for it is theft, independent of the specifics of EU law. The fact that poorly thought out EU law is supporting said theft does nor render it any more acceptable. Are you suggesting that EU legislation was created with the notion that this activity should be protected? Your comment that Apple should “better curate what is sold on their European App Stores” suggests that the users in question are canceling purchases because they are not satisfied with the product. That is not the situation under discussion. The theft occurs when users are canceling purchases simply to avoid paying for software that they use. This is not at all the behavior that EU law was intended to protect. Your own post stated that the law was intended to protect users from “purchasing something that doesn’t live up to their expectations”. Unless one can, with a straight face, argue that a valid expectation is that one should be able to use things that cost money without being required to pay that money, your argument doesn’t really hold water.

      • akronymus .

        No. This EU-guidline only applies to items bought, but not yet downloaded. The right to cancel ends 14 days after clicking ‘buy’ or at the moment download is started (not: completed). I think, Apple Europe will change the dialogs to exactly accord to this as soon as EU states have turned the guideline into written law.

      • isitjustme

        Then perhaps the EU to change their law.
        What you said has no place in the buying and selling of software in the age of the internet.
        No where can I see the logic of buying software and after clicking buy there is no download of the purchased soft.
        Apple’s policy is singling out the thieves who stole/dowloaded and then want a refund.
        Perhaps Apple is trying to make an honest person out of those who love stealing.

      • julie hermiz

        Ahh I get it now, I wondered why on the rare occasions that I requested a refund for a song that turned out to be not the version I expected I found it to still be on my iPhone. This vexed me because I expected ITunes to delete them, instead I’m having to delete them myself. I think it’s criminal for people to buy and then request a refund knowing the purchase will remain on their phone for free.

      • isitjustme

        How can you buy without downloading. I believe you are confused.

      • chrimux

        But obviously it is perfectly legal to sell crappy apps.

      • isitjustme

        So true look at all the android ones and many are thieves too.

      • chrimux

        You should also consider the other side. There are some developers who sell crappy apps and don’t give their customers a chance to contact them.

        I have returned two apps and now I get every time I purchase an app or do an in-app purchase this annoying message as a pop-up and also as e-mail. It is like being insulted for buying something.

        I really think Apple allows to cancel purchases because they have to, but if a user really does it they just “punish” him for doing so and keep punishing indefinitely. Support does not even give information about the why. How can anybody follow their rules if they do not tell those (internal) rules?

      • isitjustme

        I understand your point, I too had bought an app that is totally useless and yes the developer can’t be reached.

        I treated it as a lesson learned and not to buy apps whose developers can’t be reached.

        I wish we live in a perfect world where everything is and work out to our r advantage.

      • julie hermiz

        I feel the same way, everybody is getting this message on iTunes as well, piece of cheek, after all the money I spend on music with them.

      • julie hermiz

        Well said.

    • jameskatt

      It is legal and follows EU law. Apple can also ban abusers if its system. It is not for trislware use. Apple incurs a credit card fee for esch return.

    • I’m pretty sure they’re allowed to do this since it’s a digital purchase. I don’t think they could do this with a physical iPhone sale but with digital purchases there’s literally nothing to stop you from backing up the app and then getting a refund.

    • julie hermiz

      believe you are right. Apple are getting very greedy and honest customers are being penalised. They think about large profits before they think about their consumers and their products and accessories are far too expensive.

  • Back to the try b4 you buy method, can never rely on big-brother Apple’s policy.

  • Frank de Graaf

    I can confirm this is true. My young son abused the grace period to buy unauthorised by me, gems for 200 euros via an In App purchase. The problem was that he made about a hundred euro 1.99 purchases. The option to mark a purchase as unauthorised disappears at some time, forcing me to use the “cancel” option for the rest.

    This resulted in the problems mentioned in this article. Apple support bluntly denies a “punishment policy”. No solution was offered and because of that I asked if they could email me the transcript of the chat. They agreed to do that, but did not.

    The next day I tried to contact them again via chat, and despite the waiting time being estimated as two minutes, nothing happened for an hour. I decided to call them, just with one question: Please send me the transcript because I’m not sure if I’m being told the truth. Forty screenshots are hard to share and I want to verify the statements made by Apple on independent forums.

    Problem was then solved in minutes.

    Background info for those who think I wanted to abuse the system: Loyal customer since 2003 who bought over 1000 apps, 3000 songs and 100 books. This was the very first time I used this option.

    • zexpe

      So, after calling Apple, do you no longer receive these confirmations from Apple?

    • I’m also interested in the solution you ended up with. In what way were you better off after calling them? I just used the refund feature for two apps I bought this week that did not work as advertised (one lost my data, the other didn’t return any results for a simple search) and now I have seen this punishment warning.

      • Frank de Graaf

        I wasn’t, the next day: same problems. After about a year Apple thought I had done my time and the punishment was removed.

  • chrimux

    I returned two or three apps within two months for different reasons which I wrote them and now I am banned? Really. Apple offers a 14-day return policy but if somebody makes use of it they are stripped of their right. I bought many more apps, but now I won’t any more.

    • David

      I found myself in a similar situation today. I am now getting the popup message when I make purchases from the app store. I was sure it was a mistake because I have only ever requested one – yes one – refund since the 14 day policy came into force.

      I called Apple Support, who at first were helpful, but I ended up being transferred to a ‘supervisor’ in the iTunes team who told me that yes the policy had been applied to my account as I had (and I quote) “A lot of refunds”.

      I asked him to list them all. There are five, in total, since June 2011. That’s five refunds on my iTunes account in four years. Four of them, which occurred between June 2011 and July 2014, fall OUTSIDE the new 14-day no questions asked refund policy, which came into force in December 2014. They were refunds for films rented through iTunes which never downloaded properly due to technical issues. That leaves one refund on an app purchased through the app store, which I applied for within 24 hours because the app didn’t work as advertised.

      And that, apparently, is enough to make this new policy apply to me.

      I asked the operator if he agreed that five refunds in four years, only one of which took advantage of the new 14-day policy, in his opinion constituted “a lot of refunds”. At this point he became evasive and began accusing me of putting words in his mouth.

      I can’t quote the entire conversation because it was verbal rather than on chat, but the basic gist of it was that Apple had absolutely no intention of reversing their decision to apply the ‘punishment’ policy to my account; the operator was unable to tell me what the criteria for applying the policy actually are, his explanation being that “we don’t communicate internal policies to customers”, but in reality I think it was because he had no idea.

      Basically he was saying, not in so many words, we’ll apply the policy to whoever we feel like whenever we feel like it.

      I asked for the case reference number and am escalating the complaint with Apple. It’s funny really, because I’m not even particularly against the policy itself; but what I am strongly against is having a policy that’s designed to stop people “abusing the system” applied to me.

      What started off as mere curiosity about a mistake on my account has now turned into a full blown battle with Apple.

      What surprises me is that if the threshold for the policy is so unbelievably low, why this isn’t getting more attention with more people complaining.

      • chrimux

        Maybe people do complain, but there is no visible central place for this so we will never know. I won’t purchase anything in App Store or iTunes Store any more.
        After my initial complaint at Apple Support I found that I get this annoying message and email every time:
        – I buy an app
        – I do an in-App purchase
        – i buy a song/album in iTunes Store
        – I download a free app

        Maybe I will also get this message when I buy a book in iBooks? I don’t know and never will, fortunately there is the kindle app.

        Getting such a warning message every time I try to do business with Apple is like them saying, “you are not welcome as a customer. But we will take your money for now and just remind you that you are a crook”

      • How did you get on with your complaint?

      • Frank de Graaf

        They deny such punishments exist. I used to write a lot for tech magazines and even used my contacts within the company. They couldn’t do anything.

  • Rui F Ribeiro

    It is not entirely honest from Apple part to punish their customers in such as an underhanded way; I also in the past made app return, always justified; at the end of the day, they are hurting their business as I wont as easily buy apps in the near future. They also have the nerve to damage our online experience with further dialogs for each transaction, and actually at the end of the day I also have given up buying apps I would have bought otherwise in some of that intermediate steps.

  • Rui F Ribeiro

    Actually it boils down to a single point…Tim Cook does not have a clue about handling the paying customers that made the company what it is nowadays. The even nowadays are a sorry crying shade of the past, and seem to be more an affirmative action of several minorities+a music show at the end with yet another minority-group band, all in one event, then a selling, or gast, an event about technical stuff. I have all things Apple at home, but I already have two Linux routers instead of an Airport, and probably been phasing out several of the iThings. For the moment, the only product that still has no possible match is the iPhone. The iWatch is an oversold beautiful lump of coal at this point in time…