Dark Patterns in Apple News

by Matthew Warren

I'm aggravated by Apple News.

Dark Patterns in Apple News

Recently, I've encountered two instances where Apple News uses so-called "dark patterns" to increase engagement with the app in user-hostile ways.

And in both instances, Apple is breaking its own rules.

1. The Quit-blocking Promotional Offer

On my Mac, I opened a News article via the Control Center widget. Once I read the article I was done with News and pressed Command + Q to quit the app.

Instead of quitting, News displayed a promotional modal encouraging me to subscribe to News+.

Promotional modal offering News+ subscription

The long-standing macOS convention is for apps to quit when the user tells them to, unless there is unsaved content. A word processing app might confirm you want to quit without saving an open document. Or a web browser might remind you there are multiple open tabs. These are useful affordances that help prevent potential data loss.

Showing me an ad encouraging me to subscribe to a service is not a useful affordance.

2. Automatic Notification Subscriptions

The default configuration for system Notifications on macOS, iOS and iPadOS do not include any settings for Apple News.

Default Notifications settings on macOS

If you open Apple News, then check Notification preferences, Notifications are then automatically enabled. The configuration is the most intrusive possible.

Apple News notifications are automatically enabled

Many first-party Apple apps are granted default notification entitlements. It stands to reason that a user would want Phone and Messages to deliver notifications without additional knob-turning. Having these apps enabled by default meets user expectation.

The issue is that Apple News – while not being granted notification permissions out of the box – grants itself this permission on first launch with no user interaction.

Similar to News, the TV app does not have a "default" configuration for Notifications. However, in contrast, when you first open, you're prompted to enable notifications if you desire. The flow is just like any third-party, non-Apple app.

Prompt to enable TV notifications
TV Notifications settings on macOS

The value proposition is less clear with News than with TV. TV provides a clear and knowable service. What does News+ do?

I don't mean for this to be a post on different domain; and I shouldn't be surprised Apple is trying to increase services revenue.

It just feels gross.

Third-party apps can't surreptitiously enable notifications without prompting the user. Preventing this exact flavor of abuse is precisely why Apple introduced Notification prompts.

I really hope Apple keeps the News team away from the rest of their software and services.

← Previously:
Personal Notes for Autumn 2021
Afterward: →
How to Disable iCloud Private Relay in macOS Monterey