A week ago, Apple introduced 14-day no-questions-asked refunds in the EU for iTunes Store and App Store content. This means that, without the need for a reason, any Apple customer in Europe can get their money back for (primarily) app purchases in 5-7 days time. That’s how it is described, at least.
This opens up some possibilities for abuse. For instance, if you complete a game within two weeks, then you can get your money back and end up paying nothing. As a developer, I tested this out myself. It turns out there is an even bigger problem. At least, right now, when the refund is processed, the app continues to work. You get the app for free, forever.
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What happens is the app gets removed from your ‘Purchased’ account history, so it’s not possible to re-download the app from the store. However, as long the app is already downloaded to a device, the file never gets deleted and never stops working. This means the app is still accessible from the Home Screen and is fully-functioning.
The IPA file is also still in iTunes on my Mac, so theoretically I could delete it from my phone and sync it back via the computer whenever I wanted. Furthermore, even if I do lose the file one day, I can technically just buy the app again and get it refunded … again.
I only tried this with apps but the ‘technique’ (if you can call it that) should also work with music, films and books. This seems like a big problem, for developers at least. Free apps and free content. I’m not sure whether this is intended behavior or not, but I do think it’s stupid and potentially very damaging to the developer community, once the general public catches on that this is possible.
I would expect Apple to track abuse of this feature, but right now I don’t think there’s anything they can do about it, for the time being. They can’t stop people from using the feature — it’s now EU law — and it doesn’t seem like they could change the functionality without a software update (i.e. actually having the app deleted when a refund is processed).
We contacted Apple to get some clarification on the intended behavior of this system for the story, but the company did not respond.