Black and White Photo Editor ‘Carbon’ Has Fake Sale

There’s a photo editor on the App Store called Carbon, exclusively for black and white photo editing. They have various in-app purchases to buy filters, textures, etc. There is also an option to unlock everything. But the developers aren’t being honest about the sale.

False Advertising

When you download the app and visit the in-app store, at the top you’ll see flashing text that says the option to unlock everything is currently on sale for 50% off. The crossed-out price that we’re led to believe is the original price says US$39.98. Flashing text below that says the sale ends in approximately 35 minutes.

Except that when the 35 minutes are up, nothing happens. That’s because the sale is fake, and the half-off price of US$19.99 was the true price all along. On the app’s page in the App Store, you can scroll down to reveal the in-app purchases. The “Carbon Full Access” option is US$19.99.

Carbon fake sale screenshots

To no one’s surprise, this is a violation of App Store Review Guidelines. Section 3.1.2 Permissible Uses says:

Apps that attempt to scam users will be removed from the App Store. This includes apps that attempt to trick users into purchasing a subscription under false pretenses or engage in bait-and-switch and scam practices will be removed from the App Store and you may be removed from the Apple Developer Program.

The app has even been highlighted by Apple before. There’s an app story called “Make Your Photos Pop” featuring Carbon, among others.

Developer Response

I reached out to the developer of Carbon, and this is the reply (edited for length):

We will be updating the UI to address the issue. We currently have an update pending review by apple, so it will be addressed in the update after that.

The IAP (in-app-purchase) you are referring to is the full access/lifetime access option which is currently being offered at 50%. The full price is $39.99. We are going to introduce a subscription option soon for $20/yr, and at that point the lifetime option will be raised back to $39.99, so the $19.99 price is 50% off until that time.

Regarding the $19.99 displayed on the product page. Unfortunately, apple doesn’t allow developers to assign a periodic discount to the price of an in app purchase (although it is possible with subscriptions). There are two ways to offer a discount: 1) Change the actual price of the IAP product;  2) Create duplicate IAPs for multiple price points.

We have chosen option 1) in this particular case, and this is why you are seeing $19.99 for Full Access on the app store. This price of this IAP in particular will be changed to the full $40 once subscriptions are introduced.

carbon purchase refund screenshot

Here’s my problem with that. I first discovered Carbon months ago. I dived into my purchase history to see that I downloaded it on January 9, 2018. I bought the in-app purchase for full access but thankfully was able to get a refund. I don’t pretend to know anything about app development or how long it takes to get an update out. But pretending that the sale ends in 35 minutes (in seeming perpetuity) isn’t right.

Further Reading:

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