Apple May Not Like It, but ‘Zapple Pay’ Finds Workaround for Bitcoin Tipping on Damus

The new third-party payment service claims to be independent of the Damus iPhone app that Apple has tried to restrict, and lets users tip one another on any app that runs on the Nostr protocol.

AccessTimeIconJul 10, 2023 at 9:46 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 10, 2023 at 10:16 p.m. UTC

Last month, Apple (AAPL) threatened to remove the Bitcoin-friendly social media app Damus from its App Store for allowing users to tip or “zap” each other with bitcoin (BTC) on content posted in the app – a prohibited practice the tech giant reportedly considers equivalent to selling digital media.

Damus creator William Casarin eventually conceded, resolving the standoff by removing the app’s ability to send zaps on posts or notes; users were still able to tip each other at the profile level.

But now, a pair of independent developers have come up with what appears to be a workaround – and they believe that this time, Apple may be all but powerless to stop them.

On July 6, barely two weeks after Casarin’s concession, the new Zapple Pay service went live – the brainchild of two Bitcoin developers who say they have no affiliation to Casarin or Damus. They say they discovered a way to enable zaps via emojis.

Since emojis are allowed on posts, the app’s users can once again send zaps on posts, despite Apple’s restrictions.

The two Bitcoin developers behind Zapple Pay are Ben Carman and Paul Miller. The pair are also co-founders of Mutiny wallet, a browser-based, Lightning-enabled and self-custodial bitcoin wallet.

Users who want to try the new service simply provide their Nostr public key (npub), an emoji, and a link to a wallet. Nostr is an acronym for “notes and other stuff transmitted by relays.”

“When they react to a post with that emoji, we initiate a zap to that post,” Carman told CoinDesk.

Since Zapple Pay is a third-party service, it’s not clear if Apple can or will take any action against Damus and engage in a game of Whac-A-Mole with Carman and Miller.

“If Apple is that petty, then there's no real appeasing them in the long term,” Miller said. “We could build the exact same functionality on top of any social network.”

Casarin, the Damus creator, insists that he had no role in the development of Zapple Pay, nor any affiliation with the developers.

Damus is popular with bitcoiners, partly because of the tipping feature, and advocates for the cryptocurrency had chimed in on its behalf, after Apple’s crackdown. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose current company Block (SQ) is largely Bitcoin-focused, went as far as calling out Apple CEO Tim Cook on the matter.

Jack Dorsey weighs in

On July 8, Dorsey appeared to acknowledge the efforts of the Zapple Pay developers, posting on the Damus app, "Zaps always find a way," with a link to the team's website.

Prior to forcing Casarin to remove zaps on posts from Damus, Apple recommended he enable zaps that use its mobile payment service Apple Pay instead.

“Apple banning note zaps is like trying to ban hyperlinks in browsers,” Casarin told CoinDesk. “It's just a piece of technology and they have zero power to stop it.”

CoinDesk reached out to Apple for comment and its spokesperson had not responded at the time of publication.

“We could build the same thing for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram,” Carman said. “So if they go after Damus, then we'll replicate it for Twitter and try to force their hand.”

Edited by Bradley Keoun.


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Frederick  Munawa

Frederick Munawa was a Technology Reporter for Coindesk. He covered blockchain protocols with a specific focus on bitcoin and bitcoin-adjacent networks.