Debugger

Apple’s Latest Power Move Steals Web Traffic From Publishers

An upcoming change to Apple News+ ‘cannibalizes’ clicks

Owen Williams
OneZero
Published in
4 min readAug 14, 2020

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Photo: Michael Short/Stringer/Getty Images

A change discovered in iOS 14 and macOS 11 betas this week suggests that Apple is hoping to quietly hijack and redirect users into its paid Apple News+ service, which has big implications for publishers, as well as the open web.

The update, which was brought to the public’s attention by Tony Haile, the CEO of Scroll, an app that strips ads out of articles published on partner sites, is subtle: When subscribers or trial users of Apple News+ click on a URL on the web for a site that’s part of the service, like The Atlantic, they’ll be automatically redirected to Apple’s app rather than the publisher’s website. Because the setting is reportedly enabled by default, users might not even realize they’ve been redirected to an Apple-owned app, and publishers will miss out on advertising revenue or directly selling new subscriptions. Meanwhile, Apple News+, which bundles a number of brands into one subscription cost, reportedly takes a 50% cut of fees from publishers that use the platform.

(This should sound familiar to you: Apple’s controversial rev-share model sparked a major conflict this week when the company removed Fortnite from the App Store after the game implementing a stand-alone platform for in-app purchases, thereby circumventing a 30% fee for payments processed on iOS. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, is now suing Apple in federal court in retaliation.)

Apple’s beta features sometimes change before the full release, so it’s possible that this new redirect feature will be tweaked or removed prior to the official iOS 14 launch this fall. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the feature.

But if the feature sticks, by quietly sending news readers into its Apple’s News app without asking them first, the company will be able to boost its numbers and keep readers away from the open web.

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Owen Williams
OneZero

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. Design Manager in Tech. https://twitter.com/ow