Pressured by Apple, Telegram Forces Bot and Mini-App Developers to Accept Payments for Paid Features in Its New Currency — Telegram Stars

Telegram has started sending messages to bot and mini-app developers, demanding changes in how payments are handled in their projects. The messaging app stated that Apple required Telegram to adhere to its rules for accepting payments for virtual goods and services.

What Does Apple Want?

The issue is that Telegram allows bots to use third-party payment systems without controlling what is being paid for through them. From Apple’s perspective, this looks like Telegram selling virtual services bypassing the App Store’s payment system. Even if Telegram acts merely as a platform and an intermediary between users, according to App Store rules, the messaging app is responsible for all content within the app, including payments in bots and web views presented as mini-apps.

Apple is very strict about this rule because the App Store payment system collects a 30% fee on all payments (with special terms for lower-profit developers). Based on company income reports, Apple could have earned around $30 billion from App Store fees in 2022, which is about 7% of the corporation’s total revenue. However, it’s unclear why Apple ignored the existence of payments in bots on Telegram all these years and different theories can be made about the true nature of Telegram’s actions.

What Will Change for Users?

According to the new rules, starting from June 12, all virtual goods and services in bots, such as subscriptions to paid features, must be purchased using a new currency called Telegram Stars. This currency can be bought by users from Telegram through app store payment systems using regular fiat currency like dollars, rubles, and other currencies.

This is similar to Robux in Roblox or discontinued Facebook Credits: you buy the “credits” for real money through the app store and use them to pay developers inside the platform, like paid items inside Roblox games or micro-transactions inside Facebook games. Interestingly enough, Durov introduced a similar system on his previous project, It has a virtual currency called “votes”, used by users for payments in games on Developers can convert the received “votes” into rubles onto their bank account.

If a bot you use transitions to the new system, this also means prices will likely increase to compensate for the fee charged by app stores.

According to App Store rules, services outside the app, such as calling a repairman or ordering goods and food, can be freely paid for using any payment tools. This also applies to wallet apps.

For Telegram apps downloaded from the website, the messenger will likely prepare an alternative way to purchase Telegram Stars. However, it wasn’t announced if bots can avoid using the system outside app stores, and Telegram didn’t provide developers with the technical capability to do so.

What Will Change for Developers?

Telegram has given bot and mini-app developers three weeks to switch to payments in Telegram Stars, until June 12. If a developer does not make the required changes, Telegram threatens to suspend the bot “for most customers”.

The company provides no other specifics — the message only states that due to App Store rules, all payments for virtual goods and services must be switched to the new system, and describes the necessary APIs to use to comply with the new rules.

The messenger says all income from Telegram Stars will be paid to bot creators in TON cryptocurrency and promises that the changes will “positively impact the conversion rate for payments from customers in most markets”. No information about fees has been announced yet.

Tons of Problems

The new rules are causing many questions and problems for Telegram bot and mini-app developers.

The messenger has given only three weeks to switch payments to Telegram Stars. This is a very tight deadline that not every developer will be able to meet. This will particularly affect projects with complex payment and integration systems.

Switching to payments in TON cryptocurrency will create difficulties for developers who are unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies or that are unable to use them. Despite the promised favorable exchange rates, developers will have to deal with the unstable and volatile TON price and will have to figure out ways to mitigate risks.

It remains unclear how the new rules will impact the overall ecosystem of bots on Telegram. @tginfo editors learned from some developers that they would prefer to close their existing projects and halt the development of new ones rather than adapt to the announced requirements.

Lack of Any Explanations

Apple’s and Google’s payment systems charge fees on transactions. Telegram’s announcement did not have a word talking about this, leaving developers uncertain about what figures to expect. @tginfo editors believe Telegram is likely to take a 30% cut from the received Telegram Stars, as this is the standard rate in app stores. However, this is merely a speculation: it could be that Telegram reaches special agreements with Apple to pay less or, contrary, adds an additional fee on top.

Interestingly, Pavel Durov announced payments for digital goods and services through app store In-App purchases back in April, during a TON presentation, but did not mention that this system would become mandatory. During his speech, Durov stated that Telegram would give developers 70% of the revenue, explaining this with the 30% fee of app store payment systems. He also mentioned that payouts to developers would be made through the blockchain.

Telegram demands that developers switch to the new system, without clarifying whether this is mandatory across all platforms. The reason this is important lies in the fact that Telegram apps can be downloaded outside of app stores, raising questions for developers: will they have to share their revenue even when Google and Apple do not require it?

For example, if users download the messenger from, they can buy Telegram Premium through the official bot @PremiumBot. However, in the App Store version, the bot won’t work — Telegram will prompt users to buy the subscription through the App Store or Google Play. Right now Telegram does not provide regular developers a way to know if their users downloaded Telegram from an app store — this is a unique feature of @PremiumBot, but it could be useful for developers who do not want to work with Telegram Stars.

If Telegram does not provide such an alternative, the new system may be viewed as a means to strengthen the position of the TON cryptocurrency and compel developers to use its ecosystem. There’s a chance Telegram wants to collect 30% on platforms where app stores do not do this yet. Specifically, questions arise about Telegram’s decision to pay developers in TON cryptocurrency for money received from users in fiat currencies — @tginfo editors are inclined to think that if Apple truly demanded bots switch to the App Store payment system, it’s unlikely they would suggest paying developers in cryptocurrency, such a model is surely an initiative that would come from the messenger team.

In their message, Telegram stated that they need to use Telegram Stars to comply with store guidelines Apple and Google impose, yet no pressure from Google is mentioned. It is unclear whether Google has demanded similar changes or continues to turn a blind eye, as Apple did.

The message was sent even to bots that do not use Payments 2.0 API and do not initiate payments within the bot but sell additional services on their website. It is unclear whether these projects are affected by the policy change. Similarly, it is unclear whether the requirements affect projects that use Bot API as a mere way to integrate with Telegram, while having all their paid features outside of Telegram, for example, on a website.

To understand why it might be an issue you need to know that App Store rules prohibit apps from displaying links that facilitate payments bypassing the App Store’s In-App purchase mechanisms. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they can only be applied with Apple’s permission. In Russia, the US, the European Union, the Netherlands, and Korea, Apple may grant the right to use external payment methods or third-party payment systems. It is unclear whether developers will be able to use this privilege if they do business in one of the listed countries. It is worth noting that in most cases, Apple continues to charge a 27% fee, assuming that the third-party payment platform will take the other three percent, neutralizing the benefit of the option. Nevertheless, some developers prefer to leave links to third-party payment methods as they may be more convenient and accessible for users.

It is not specified whether the rule applies to bots that accept specific types of cryptocurrency or use @wallet for processing all payments. App Store rules allow cryptocurrency wallets to buy, sell, and transfer currency bypassing Apple’s payment system, but apps are prohibited from using cryptocurrencies and NFTs as a cash equivalent to activate paid features. @tginfo editors’ interpretation of the rules is the following: Apple prohibits payment using cryptocurrencies and NFTs in bots that are not wallets entirely. You can’t incentivize users to buy cryptocurrency or NFTs bypassing the App Store billing system. “Virtual currencies” are allowed if they are usable only within the app in which they were purchased, and the currency can only be bought through the App Store. It seems that these rules were the reason behind the way the Telegram Stars system is designed.

The @tginfo team also speculates that Telegram Stars will only be purchasable in “packages” with pre-set amounts determined by Telegram. This means developers will either have to adjust prices to fit the packages offered by Telegram, or users will have to buy more Telegram Stars than they need, leaving them with unused “extra” currency. This assumption is based on the App Store restriction, which only allows purchases of preset items at predefined prices, leading developers to frequently use in-game currencies sold in packages.

It seems that at launch, the Telegram Stars system will not support subscription models. It is unclear whether developers can continue using their own payment methods for subscriptions until Telegram resolves this technical limitation, or if they will have to remind users to renew their subscriptions manually.

Legal Aspect

In the announcement, the messenger clarified that developers will receive money onto their balance as Telegram Stars, which can be withdrawn in the TON cryptocurrency anytime. However, many large bots and mini-apps are officially registered as businesses, pay taxes, and sign contracts with other companies, which obligates them to work with fiat currencies.

This is related to the fact that in many countries accepting cryptocurrency is difficult for several reasons: in some states, cryptocurrency operations are either completely banned or significantly restricted and subject to strict control.

For example, in China there is a complete ban on all cryptocurrency transactions since September 2021. This means that bot developers from China or those targeting the Chinese market intending to will not be able to withdraw Telegram Stars in TON, even if technically Telegram allows it1.

In Russia, cryptocurrencies are not banned, but their legal status remains ambiguous. According to the “On Digital Financial Assets” law, cryptocurrencies are recognized as property but cannot be used to pay for goods and services. This creates legal uncertainty for Russian bot developers and may require additional agreements with regulators.

Even in countries where cryptocurrencies are allowed, there may be special requirements for user identification, accounting, and transaction reporting. Bot developers will have to understand the nuances of local legislation and ensure their projects comply with legal norms.

Non-compliance with laws can lead to the bot getting banned, receiving fines, and even criminal liability for developers. At the same time, Telegram as a platform is unlikely to be able to ensure full compliance with the laws of all countries where the messenger is available. The responsibility for meeting local requirements will likely fall on the developers themselves.

This problem could lead to geographic fragmentation of the bot ecosystem in Telegram. In some countries, developers will have to abandon using payments in TON or seek workarounds, creating unequal conditions for projects from different states.

Notably, a straightforward API for billing and receiving payments in cryptocurrency will simplify life for small developers who want to work unofficially and experiment with monetizing their bots. Users may begin to trust payments in lesser-known bots more because they can dispute payments through Apple and Google support, which are responsive in refunding money if there are valid reasons. Paying through a payment method attached to Wallet is also much faster and more convenient.

Instead of a Conclusion

Telegram needs to balance complying with Apple’s requirements, ensuring convenience for developers and users, and navigating legislative restrictions across various jurisdictions. Additional mechanisms may be needed to adapt the payment system to the specific needs of different countries to minimize legal risks for all participants in the ecosystem. One of the primary pain points for Telegram Stars are developer payouts in TON exclusively, which is probably not something Apple demanded to use and something Telegram could change.

With its policy change, which will take effect very soon, Telegram has raised many questions but has not provided answers to stakeholders — the businesses that rely on the messenger. Until June 12, developers of large bots are trying to understand their future by reaching out to Apple support and relevant government bodies. The @tginfo team hopes that Telegram will still provide clear explanations, but for now, this article remains one big question mark.

  1. Of course, you need to remember that Telegram itself is banned in China in the first place and developers likely wouldn’t make money on it in clear, China is used here only as a cryptocurrency regulation example. ↩︎