Category: Opinion

What's at stake if investors begin to shun…


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The disappearance of a Saudi journalist last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has shaken confidence in the country as a place to do business, with potential consequences for billions of dollars in investments going into and out of the country.

It’s a blow, analysts say, to efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to convince the world that the country is a reputable place to strike the deals needed to power a wide-ranging transformation of the economy.

As allegations emerge that Jamal Khashoggi was gruesomely murdered, political pressure to isolate Saudi Arabia is increasing.

Here is a look at the Saudi leader’s economic plans and what is at stake if business leaders begin to shun the country.

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Q: Why does Prince Mohammed need foreign investors?

A: The crown prince wants to diversify the economy away from oil and transform its business and political model. For years, oil revenues paid for plenty of government sector jobs and benefits. That model has come under strain amid a growing population and a period of low oil prices.

The prince’s Vision 2030 strategy foresees the creation of a vibrant private sector. As part of that, he wants to develop new industries like alternative energy, tourism and entertainment. Projects include a new business zone near the Red Sea called NEOM that would focus on advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.

Saudi Arabia has its own companies in more traditional fields like construction, which would get a lot of that investment. But the country would need technology, expertise and financing from outside to carry out Prince Mohammed’s ideas. He wants, for instance, to have his Public Investment Fund — the state-backed investment vehicle — raise more money by selling a stake in chemicals company SABIC to state oil firm Saudi Aramco. Analysts say Saudi Aramco would likely have to borrow to make the deal happen. The PIF itself has already borrowed $11 billion from international banks.

“Foreign investment is a main pillar of Vision 2030,” said Sebastian Sons, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The old tradition is on the brink. Diversification of the economy is strongly needed and Vision 2030 is the strategy for that.”

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Q: How would the Khashoggi disappearance affect that?

A: Foreign investors already had doubts about the country amid regional conflicts like a blockade of neighbor Qatar and a brutal war against rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia ranks 92nd out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, which measures things like ability to enforce contracts and get goods in and out of the country. Another cloud was cast over the business environment when Prince Mohammed locked up several dozen members of the Saudi elite in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and seized what the country’s attorney general said was more than $100 billion in assets.

The Khashoggi scandal comes at a time when “the private sector is cowed and hurting in many ways,” said David Butter, an analyst with the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The hotel incident shows that “they don’t know if their assets are safe from sequestration.” And grisly details reported in news media about Khashoggi’s alleged killing “are just going to make the private sector even more worried,” he said.

The war in Yemen has led to horrors such as an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition that killed 40 children, but the Khashoggi incident is harder to play down as a regrettable mishap of war. Butter said Prince Mohammed’s image as the “face of future reform is now much more difficult to sustain.”

Turkish authorities say Khashoggi was killed. The Saudis have denied involvement.

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Q: Are people losing faith in Saudi Arabia as a business destination?

A: Foreign business and political leaders are dropping out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative, an annual event started last year to showcase the country as a place to do business. Among those cancelling are U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Sons of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said the no-shows “are a serious indicator for Mohammed bin Salman that he is losing trust, that Saudi Arabia is not seen as the ideal place to invest.”

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Q: Why are the Saudis investing abroad as well?

A: They’ve been buying stakes mainly in technology firms to diversify their revenue and show the country as forward-looking and tech-friendly place.

The sovereign fund has invested $3.5 billion in Uber, for example. It has pledged $45 billion for the SoftBank Vision Fund, a private equity fund that has taken stakes in Uber and messaging software maker Slack Technologies Inc.

The question now is, whether companies will be leery of Saudi money for fear it will taint their reputations. Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, has said he is freezing talks for Saudi investment in his space companies. Other executives have limited themselves to the symbolic rebuke of shunning next week’s Saudi conference. Others have simply kept quiet.

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Q: How likely are sanctions against Saudi Arabia?

A: Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham called for Saudi Arabia to be punished if it is confirmed it organized Khashoggi’s disappearance. But they did not specify what that might mean in practice.

The 2016 Global Magnitsky Act makes it possible to impose visa bans barring entry into the U.S. and targeted sanctions on individuals for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption. Congress can submit proposed names.

Analyst Butter at the Royal Institute said the prospect of sanctions was unclear but that “any kind of sanctions would have a strong symbolic effect.”

President Donald Trump has promised “severe punishment” if regime involvement is proved, but has also said he does not want to cost U.S. jobs by curtailing U.S. sales of military equipment to the Saudis.



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Thousands turn out for anti-Brexit protest in London…


LONDON (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Organizers want the public to have a final say on the government’s Brexit deal with the EU, arguing that new facts have come to light about the costs and complexity of Britain’s exit from the bloc since Britons voted to leave in 2016.

Some 150 buses ferried thousands of activists from across the country to the British capital, and organizers estimated that over 500,000 took part.

“What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined the “People’s Vote March,” told the BBC. “That’s a million miles away from what was promised 2 1/2 years ago.”

Khan said Saturday’s protest was a “march for the future” for young Britons, including those who were too young to vote in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, when those who favored leaving the bloc won narrowly by 52 percent to 48 percent.

The mayor, from the opposition Labour Party, has previously backed mounting calls for a fresh referendum so that the public can have a say on whether they accept Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal or choose to stay in the EU.

May, the leader of Britain’s Conservatives, has ruled out another public vote on the subject.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but negotiations over the divorce have been plagued by disagreements, particularly over the future border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will be the U.K.’s only land border with the EU after Brexit, for Ireland is part of the EU and Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.

One of the great accomplishments of the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland was to dismantle the police and military presence at the border with Ireland. Many on both sides do not want a hard border again.

There are also growing fears of a “no-deal” British exit, which could create chaos at the borders and in the EU and the British economies.

May, speaking at an inconclusive EU summit in Brussels this week, said she would consider having a longer post-Brexit transition period — one that could keep Britain aligned to EU rules and obligations for more than two years after its March departure. Pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, however, saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.

“This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain,” said Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords. “Voters will neither forgive nor forget if (lawmakers) allow this miserable Brexit to proceed without people being given the final say.”



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Javier Bardem condemns Woody Allen 'public lynching'…


Javier Bardem has spoken out in support of Woody Allen, who directed him and his wife Penélope Cruz in the 2008 comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Bardem’s comments emerged from a masterclass at the Lumiere festival in Lyon, France. The Spanish actor, who also appeared in the 007 film Skyfall and won an Oscar for best supporting actor for the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, said he would be happy to work for Allen again.

“At the time I did Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the allegations were already well known for more than 10 years, and two states in the US deemed he was not guilty.”

He added: “If the legal situation ever changes, then I’d change my mind. But for now I don’t agree with the public lynching that he’s been receiving, and if Woody Allen called me to work with him again I’d be there tomorrow morning. He’s a genius.”

Bardem’s attitude contrasts strongly with a number of high-profile actors, including Colin Firth, Greta Gerwig, and Timothée Chalamet, who have said they regret working with Allen and won’t do so again, following a newspaper article in 2013 by Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow in which she repeated accusations of child sexual abuse by her father, alleged to have taken place in 1992. Allen denies all the allegations. An investigation by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut concluded in 1993 that no abuse had taken place, and New York state’s Department of Social Services cleared Allen later the same year following a child welfare investigation.

Allen, meanwhile, has said that he intends to keep working despite the hostility of large sections of the film industry. Page Six, the New York Post’s gossip section, reported Allen as saying: “I’m a writer. It’s what I am. What I do. What I always will be. I’ll write. Since I continually have ideas it’ll be new ideas and I’ll write new things.”

Allen’s most recent film, A Rainy Day in New York, has yet to secure a release date.



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Crown prince had 'no knowledge'…


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had no knowledge of the specific operation that resulted in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul this month, a Saudi official familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is seen during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy/File Photo

“There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding that there was a standing order to bring critics of the kingdom back to the country.

“MbS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody. He will have been aware of the general instruction to tell people to come back,” the source said, using the initials of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The source said the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body were unclear after it was handed over to a “local cooperator” but there was no sign of it at the consulate.

Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Shark washes up dead on Florida shore with old hat wrapped around head…


The body of a shark was found washed ashore in Florida with the remains of an old hat wrapped around its body.

The photo of the dead finetooth shark was posted to St. Johns County Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page.

The post says the 6-foot-long shark of a species that ranges from North Carolina to Brazil migrates along the Florida coast in the early fall.

The photo shows the remains of the hat identified by the post as a plastic brim, which is seen wrapped tightly around the shark’s neck near its gills.

“Although the cause of death is undetermined without a necropsy of the animal, this is another great example of how plastic marine debris is not just a global issue, but a local one as well,” the post reads.

County staff responded to the report of the shark on Friday and then reported it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline, the post said.

See the Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/sjcparksandrec/photos/a.859404720781050/1876441302410715/?type=3&theater

Richard Tribou is a Senior Content Editor for the Community Conversations Team. He can be reached at rtribou@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5134



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Gunman torches own home before ambushing firefighters…


SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – The gunman who set a fire that burned four Springfield homes and shot at firefighters before killing himself posted on Facebook about an hour before it all happened.

READ MORE: Police identify subject in early morning shooting, fire

Around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Lance Jacobs, 65, wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page about his declining health and numerous MRSA infections in the last two years, as well as suffering from sleep apnea.

He also said he never recovered from the trauma of his divorce 28 years ago and not being able to see his kids anymore devastated him. He said his life has been broken and meaningless ever since.

Jacobs said he was worried he would face charges for something he didn’t do because of his ex-wife’s lies.

About an hour later, police said Jacobs set fire to his home in the 500 block of Oakdale Avenue and then fired shots at firefighters.

The fire then spread to other homes, destroying three and damaging another.

RELATED: Police help put out fire after firefighters ambushed in Springfield

Police said Jacobs then shot and killed himself. They believe he was trying to kill first responders, but they are not sure why.

Jacobs does not have any past criminal cases in Oregon.

Read Jacobs’ entire Facebook post below:

“I have become so ill in recent years. My health just continues to go downhill. I’ve got painful injuries to discs in my lower back, and my left knee is getting to the point where it will soon need a knee replacement. My doctor told me that surgery has done all it can to repair the torn meniscus. Then my cardiovascular problems started six years ago, and have slowly been getting worse. On top of that, I have something wrong with the right side of my sinuses, and have suffered chronic infections in my right sinus for many years now. Many times my right eye has become infected too. Yet no doctor seems to be able to explain why this happens.

Then 2 1/2 years ago, I became infected with MRSA, after a visit to the Sacred Heart RiverBend hospital. And i have had numerous MRSA infections break out in many parts of my body since then.

And on top of everything else, I suffer from really severe sleep apnea. The chronic nasal congestion I suffer made trying to use a CPAP machine impossible. And when I get this bad congestion in my right sinus, it really aggravates my sleep apnea greatly. I wake up some mornings with my bed in shambles, and still feeling tired, and lately even with a headache.

I’ve continued to suffer falls, which I believe that the sleep apnea is contributing to. Just 10 days ago, I fell. I broke my fall, by putting out my left hand. But now my left wrist has been in pain ever since.

I had a great doctor at Springfield Family Physicians for 13 years, but since he is gone, I feel like I am treated like a stranger there. And Peacehealth staff at both the hospital, and also their Gateway Urgent Care, have both refused to believe me this year, when I told them that I was suffering from a bad sinus infection again, and instead brushed off my complaints by saying that I was having allergies.

My right sinus is so badly infected. And the infection has spread the past two months to my right eye, and my vision in my right eye has now been destroyed. It is like muddy blotches now cover my right eye, and everything is a blur now. And just the last couple of days, I now have new symptoms of bright dots of green and blue, and sometimes red, now appearing in my vision.

I’ve also never recovered from the emotional trauma of my divorce 28 years ago, and the monstrous abuse and witch hunt that my ex was able to orchestrate against me in divorce court, with the help of Samantha Payne. How the authorities in Nevada could have ever come to rely on that woman, I will never understand. When she told Judge Griffin that there was no such thing as false allegations of abuse, he simply nodded.The trauma of not being allowed to see my kids anymore totally devastated me. Plus the stress of the never ending police investigations due to my ex continuing to manufacture new allegations, and fearing being charged with something that I’ve never done, all based on her false allegations. I had two emotional breakdowns during the divorce, ( which lasted 2 years and 10 months in court ). I even sought help from a local expert on trauma after moving to Eugene, as I actually suffered constant nightmares, that went on for 4 years after the divorce was over. Night after night, I would relive the trauma and pain of losing my kids. It was like an echo that just would not stop.

I’ve never really fully recovered emotionally. My life has been broken and meaningless ever since.

It is ironic that the terrible emotional pain that I have suffered so very long with, is now being matched with all of these physical pains and health problems. I have become so very disabled by my medical issues now.”



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Border Patrol stops massive meth shipment…



Border Patrol stops massive meth shipment...

(Second column, 12th story, link)


Related stories:
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Adult Caught Faking as ‘Unaccompanied Minor’…

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COMING SOON: Mueller Ready to Deliver Key Findings…


There’s no indication, though, that Mueller is ready to close up shop, even if he does make some findings, according to former federal prosecutors. Several matters could keep the probe going, such as another significant prosecution or new lines of inquiry. And because Mueller’s investigation has been proceeding quietly, out of the public eye, it’s possible there have been other major developments behind the scenes.



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Mysterious radio signal unusually close to Earth…


ASKAP

A strange flash of radio waves that was recently detected in space has now been traced to its home galaxy – and appears to originate from relatively nearby.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are blasts of radio waves that last for only a few milliseconds but can contain as much energy as our sun puts out in decades. Over 50 have been spotted in space since they were first discovered in 2007, however we still don’t know what causes them.

Most detected bursts have been billions of light years away, making them hard to study. …



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Sneaky subscriptions plague APPLE app store…


Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly.

However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.

Utilities Top Grossing Apps are worst offenders 

Today, the majority of the Top Grossing apps on Apple’s App Store are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment apps or games. But when you get past the market leaders — apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc. — and down into the top hundreds on the Top Grossing chart, another type of app appears: Utilities.

How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

Here are a few examples. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a representative one, just to illustrate the problem. A recent Forbes article listed many more, if you’re curious.

Scanner App – This No. 69 Top Grossing app is raking in a whopping $14.3 million per year for its document scanning utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It has an unbelievable number of customer reviews, as well — nearly 340,000 as of today, and a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. That will lead most customers to believe this is a good and trustworthy app. But when you parse through the critical reviews, you’ll see some valid complaints.

Tap around in the app and you’ll be constantly prompted to subscribe to a subscription ranging from $3.99 a week to $4.99 per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription following the free trial kicks in after only 3 days — something that’s detailed in the fine print, but often missed. Consumers clearly don’t understand what they’re agreeing to, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate customers feel they got duped into paying.

QR Code Reader — Forbes recently found that TinyLab’s QR Code Reader was tricking users into a ridiculously priced $156 per year subscription. This has now earned the app the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing across the App Store, and annual revenue of $5.3 million.

QR Code Scanner, via Forbes 

Again, this “free” app immediately starts pushing you to upgrade by starting a “free trial.” And again, this trial converts to a subscription after only 3 days. Can you imagine paying $156 per year for QR code scanning — something the iPhone camera app now does natively?

Weather Alarms – With a 4-star rating after hundreds of reviews, this weather alerting app seems to be handy. But in reality, it’s been using a “dark pattern” to trick users into pushing a button that will start a free trial or sign them up for subscription. And it’s working — to the tune of over a million in annual revenue.

A full screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons — try for free or pay. The small “X” to close the ad doesn’t even immediately appear! Users then end up paying some $20/month for weather alerts. That seems… excessive.

Legitimate developers have complained about this app for months, but Apple even featured it on its big screen at WWDC. (Watch the video embedded below. It’s incredible.)

*After speaking to Apple about this app, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store over the weekend. 

Translate Assistant – The same developer behind Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation app promising instant translations across more than 100 languages and has 4.7 stars after nearly 4,000 ratings.

But the app is also super aggressive about pushing its subscriptions. With every app launch, a splash screen appears with three different boxes — 1 month ($12.99/mo), 12 months ($44.99/year) or the “free trial,” which converts users to a pricey $7.99/week plan after only 3 days.

Meanwhile, the option to “continue with a limited version” is in small, gray text that’s intentionally been designed to be hard to see.

The app is making $1.3 million a year, per Sensor Tower data.

As you can tell, the issue with many of these scammy apps is that they capitalize on people not reading the fine print, or they allow an app’s design to guide them to the right button to tap. Trickery like this isn’t anything new — it’s been around on the web as long as software has been sold. It’s just that, now, subscriptions are the hip way to scam.

These developers also know that most people — especially if they’ve just downloaded a new app — aren’t going to immediately subscribe. So they push people to their “free trial” instead. But that “free trial” is actually just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it right away.

Many of these “free trials” convert almost immediately, too, which is another way developers are cashing in. They don’t give you time to think about it before they start charging.

“It’s incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams,” says Contrast founder and longtime developer David Barnard, whose apps include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. “It erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately hurts Apple and conscientious developers who use subscriptions,” he says.

Apple also buries Subscription management 

The issue of scam apps may not always be the failure of App Store review. It’s possible that the scammy apps sneak in their tricks after Apple’s App Review team approves them, making them harder to catch.

But for the time being, users have to take it upon themselves to cancel these sneaky subscriptions.

Unfortunately, Apple isn’t making it as easy for users to get to their subscriptions as it could be.

Compare Apple’s design with Google Play, where the option to manage Subscriptions is in the top-level navigation:

On the iPhone, it takes several more taps and a bit of scrolling to get to the same area in iOS Settings:

 

Above: Getting to subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click images to view larger)

In the App Store itself, you can navigate to subscriptions in fewer taps, but it’s not obvious how. You first tap on your profile icon on the top right of the Home page, then your Apple ID, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. It’s still buried further than need be, considering how critical it is to manage these auto-payments.

“I firmly believe this is not the future we should be aspiring for in terms of user experience,” says Denys Zhadanov, VP at Readdle, makers of Scanner Pro, Spark, PDF Expert and other productivity apps, speaking about these scam apps. “Apple as a platform, as an ecosystem, has always been a symbol of trust. That means people can rely on it for personal life and work needs,” he continues.

“The App Store has always been a great place, overseen and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I believe the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right measures are taken to deal with those developers who trick the system,” Zhadanov adds.

Today, most subscription-based businesses thriving on the App Store come from legitimate developers. But they know how scammers could easily ruin the market for everyone involved. If allowed to continue, these scams could lead to consumer distrust in subscriptions in general.

In a worst-case scenario, consumers may even go so far as to avoid downloading apps where subscriptions are offered as in-app purchases in order to protect themselves from scams.

For now, Apple is largely relying on user and developer reports via reportaproblem.apple.com — a site most probably don’t know exists — to help them fight scammers. It needs to do more.

In addition to making access to your subscriptions easier, it also needs to better police “Top Grossing” utilities and productivity apps — especially if the service’s value is questionable, and the 1-star reviews are specifically calling out concerns like “sneaky billing” or mentions other subscription tricks.

Apple declined to comment on the matter, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions, and insist that apps are clear about pricing. In other words, Apple has grounds to clear out these scammy subscription apps, if it chose to focus on this problem more closely in the future.

 



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