The updating of the MLB At Bat app and the semingly simultaneous charge for the MLB.TV Premium service was not an intentional action, but rather a coincidence related to them both happening before the start of Grapefriut League games today.
As far as the billing for MLB.TV goes, the billing model changed. There used to be the ability to opt-out of the automatic billing, which apparently was the choice selected by myself and the other subscribers I spoke with, but that option was removed, as I was told by the CEO of MLB.COM, because it confused subscribers and lead to thousands of support calls.
The opt-out option is also not available in the user account management because MLB.COM feels it would be too confusing, So the only option available is to cancel the subscription outright, which can be done within 5 days of being billed for a full refund.
Emails were sent to the more than 450,000 paying subscribers to alert them to the upcoming renewal. It is inevitable that more than a few failed to arrive or were routed by spam filters which would result in the charge being made with the subscriber unaware. The emails give the subscriber the option to cancel their account, but not to opt-out or renew at a different level of service.
For many followers of Major League Baseball, the February 21st update of the MLB.com At Bat application heralded the arrival of baseball for the 2013 season. But for an unknown number of At Bat app users, it also meant an unexpected charge of $124.99 on their credit card.
In 2012, the At Bat app changed formats and became a free application with the ability for the user to use either in-app or the MLB.com website to purchase enhanced capabilities ranging in price from $2.99 to $129.00. The top price got the buyer every feature of the At Bat application, on every supported platform, and incudes the MLB.TV capability which allows users to watch just about any out-of-market game on any device that supports the MLB interface, such as mobile apps for iOS and Android as well as TV devices such as the Roku box and even the Microsoft Xbox.
Last year I had given my son the gift of a subscription to MLB.TV Premium, purchased on the MLB.com website. He’s a huge Yankees fan and for us, that’s an out of market team (I don’t know how this happened. You try to raise your kid’s right and something like this occurs. Well, it could be worse; he could be a Mets fan). So I was a little surprised to see a charge appear for $124.99 from MLB.COM appear on my credit card statement. A call to him confirmed that he had done nothing more than update the At Bat app when the update notification appeared on his phone. I pay for his phone and his iTunes account is linked to my primary credit card.
Not quite sure what was going on I updated my iPhone (with my own At Bat Premium 2012 purchase), and sure enough, I was charged for a new MLB.TV Premium subscription with no additional user interaction. Even with the latest version of iOS, new applications and in-app purchases require that you log into your iTunes account, but it seems that the MLB At Bat update circumvented this and simply charged for the subscription renewal completely silently. No alert in the app description or prompt to log into your iTunes account and confirm that you wanted to spend the money is apparent.
An email to a few friends I was sure would have MLB.TV confirmed that they too had charges for a renewal on their credit cards. Interestingly enough, the $124.99 amount is $5 less than the in-app purchase price or the price listed on MLB.com. Somewhat more ominously, note that my purchases of the MLB.com app were done on the MLB website and not via iTunes.
As the purchase was charged via the MLB.com site and does not appear on my iTunes purchase history, it would appear that MLB is going completely around the iTunes / iOS purchase security model and auto-renewed the account when notified of the subscriber having updated the app. This might mean that only users who purchased the service directly from MLB.com are affected. It also means that a third-party was able to charge me for in-app activity on my iPhone/iPad without my approval.
Updating At Bat on my Android devices did not result in any additional charges, but that might simply have been because they retained my password and logon information for the account previously setup from my iPhone, which was already renewed.
The support for the MLB app is a form on the MLB.COM website, but I am trying this morning to get ahold of a human who can possibly shed some light on this problem and get an idea of how many subscribers are affected. Given the popularity of the app, this could be a very large number.
It’s an interesting dilemma; I would have renewed my MLB.TV subscription this year. It’s an amazing application and one of the best uses for an iPad ever created. But I would like to have had the choice.
A reader has pointed out to me that if you go to the account management section of your profile on the MLB.com webste you will see that if you purchase a yearly MLB.TV Premium subscription you have been hooked into what used to be called "subscribed until you die."
There is no mention of this during the purchase process, and if you are using MLB.TV on a mobile device there is little to no reason to ever login to your account on MLB.com. Some users have mentioned that they received an email from MLB.com allowing them to opt-out, but the users I have talked to don't recall seeing any such email.
Once you are logged into your account and select the Audio / Video subscription option, you have this explained and have a large button which says "Cancel Subscription". Unfortunately there is no indication if you are canceling the auto-subscribe in the future or canceling your current subscription.
Regardless, the auto-renew should be prominently mentioned when the original purchase is made.