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Bartender Developer Explains and Apologizes for Quiet Acquisition

Ben Surtees, developer of the popular Mac menu bar utility Bartender, writes:

Three months ago, I sold Bartender to Applause, a company with the resources and expertise to take the app to new heights. Applause shares my vision for Bartender and is committed to maintaining its core values while bringing in new features and improvements. I truly believe they are the right team to continue the journey and ensure Bartender remains a valuable tool for all of you.

I understand that the transition hasn’t been entirely smooth. Recently, there was a change in the signing certificate for the app, and unfortunately, this change wasn’t communicated properly to you, our loyal users. I apologize for any confusion or concern this may have caused. Please rest assured that Bartender is signed by a valid Apple ID developer and notarized by Apple, which verifies the app to ensure it is free from malware. You can read more about Apple’s notarization process here.

The post from Surtees came in response to online furor triggered by a change in the signing certificate for Bartender that caused MacUpdater to flag an update as dubious. The concern wasn’t unwarranted because Bartender needs Accessibility and Screen Recording permissions that would have been problematic if a malicious actor had taken over the app.

Instead, this was merely a case of botched PR. As a friend with a decades-long career in the field once told me, the goal of PR is to tell the truth and tell it first. Had Surtees and Applause announced the acquisition before making any technical changes, they could have avoided this online tempest and harm to Bartender’s reputation and user base. Now it’s up to Applause to mend the damage by focusing on transparency.

Since the initial publication of this piece, I have corresponded via email with Ben Surtees, who confirmed that he wrote the post:

I did write the post, to try and help clear up some of the concern caused by the lack of clarity. I also linked this to the same on surteesstudios.com so people could tell it was me (surtees studios is still mine). The reason the base url redirects is so that people looking for Bartender support get to the bartender website, in some of the license emails it linked to surteesstudios.com

He also said that he had spoken to Applause about the addition of the Amplitude digital analytics framework, which he believes they added purely “to get an idea of the user base.” He didn’t believe they thought it would cause such an uproar, which it probably wouldn’t have without the signing certificate issue drawing attention. I have also reached out to Applause and will update this article if I hear back.

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Comments About Bartender Developer Explains and Apologizes for Quiet Acquisition

Notable Replies

  1. I’ve read some of the furor on this botched communications. Some sources are saying that they not only updated the application signature, but that the new owners have suddenly (and stealthily) added telemetry collection to the product - apparently without the means of opting out. Has that concern been confirmed or addressed?

  2. What’s the latest release you can download that is from before the acquisition, and doesn’t include the new Amplitude telemetry framework? Is it https://www.macbartender.com/B2/updates/5-0-51/Bartender%205.dmg?

    The reddit article gives links for previous versions, but also says that the size of 5.0.51 jumped from 8 to 10 MB when the telemetry was added and it was re-released.

    The version of 5.0.51 I just downloaded is 9,894,676 bytes in the .dmg. codesign says it was signed by Surtees Studios Limited (8DD663WDX4). The app was created in January. So is this one safe?

  3. I’m an extremely long-time Bartender user. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’ve donned my tinfoil hat, but I am concerned that there is no assurance that the above statement actually comes from Ben Surtees.

    It seems likely that both sites where this statement was posted are currently under the control of Applause. As a commenter on the original Reddit thread has pointed out, an ICANN lookup indicates that the registration of surteesstudios.com was updated in February 2024, and that domain is currently redirecting to macbartender.com (try loading https://www.surteesstudios.com/foo and you are taken to a 404 page on the macbartender.com domain). People are reporting that emails to the original developer’s [email protected] email address have been bouncing for months.

    If the new owners ghost-wrote or straight-up manufactured this statement, that’s a terrible move. If the original developer is not available to comment, then the new owners should be honest about that.

    If the original developer ChatGPT-ed the statement himself, then so be it! But after all the obscurity, I’m not finding a generic-sounding statement posted to websites apparently no longer in control of the original developer very reassuring.

    I don’t personally think Applause is a malware or spyware risk. I think they are what they appear to be: a business that buys up niche apps and then squeezes money out of them. But the kind of permissions Bartender relies on make trust in the app developer far more crucial than for the kinds of mobile apps Applause built its business model on. Applause’s other recent acquisitions have also not been without uproar: I wish Voice Dream Reader a bright future, but they have breached Apple’s Guidelines. Apple must protect consumers with swift action – Mosen At Large.

    (I’m also a very-long-time TidBits reader and this, of all things, is what finally drove me to make an account! :sweat_smile: Sorry, lurker by nature!)

  4. At this point I’m out. Bartender, which always seemed to have good support, is getting deleted. Too many shady-sounding aspects to this to leave it on my computer.

    It’s too bad. I’ve used Bartender since version 1 which I bought in 2012 and paid for every update since then.

    Kevin

  5. I blocked Bartender v5 in Little Snitch; seems the least I can do, short of deleting BT5 wholesale. Regardless, it sure looks like BT is on its way out as the new owner can’t be trusted. Too bad, I sure like BT’s functionality.

    Update: I just uninstalled BTv5 and got “Hidden Bar” from the Mac App Store. Very basic, but it does the essential thing.

    Trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback!

  6. I rolled back to .48 and removed all the rules in little snitch to make sure to check where it was trying to talk to.

  7. Hah, that explains why Bartender 5 keeps trying to connect to Amplitude, which was blocked by Little Snitch. I was completely unaware that Bartender changed hands.

  8. Do these excepts from a Mastodon thread by Craig Hockenberry completely reflect your concerns about Bartender’s permissions or do you have additional concerns:

    The problem with Bartender is that you are giving Accessibility and Screen Recording permissions to an unknown entity. With Accessibility APIs you can control the Mac (including other apps). With Screen Recording APIs you can see everything that’s happening. Both of those things require trust, and the new owners being silent about the matter does not gain that. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole until that communication happens.

    Also remember that Bartender is not running in a sandbox, so it has a lot more access to the system than something from the Mac App Store.

    Like being able to establish network connections without entitlements. Or accessing data outside of the app’s container.

    And since it’s likely the app launches automatically and runs continuously, it’s trivial to exfiltrate anything that’s collected.

    At this point, it feels like someone bought a really nice back door.

  9. The app is a tiny utility. The statement on the Surtees Studios website about

    I came to the realization that supporting all the users and maintaining the app at the high standard I expect and you deserve was too much for one person

    sounds like BS. Every developer can do whatever they want with their apps. But at least they should be honest.

  10. After reading this Mastodon thread I’m wondering how you deleted it.

    Did you simply drag the application to the Trash, or did you also delete any associated files, perhaps with help from Hazel?

  11. I’ve used Little Snitch to disable outgoing connections from Bartender 5. In the longer term I’d like to see Apple offer this kind of utility built-in to the OS, or better still, get rid of the notch!

  12. I use App Cleaner, as mentioned in that Mastodon thread. I’ve had good results with that for quite some time now. (Previously I used AppZapper, but if I recall correctly it’s no longer supported and that’s why I switched.)

    I guess I’m not as worried about the permissions it has being a problem as I can always change them in settings myself. I’m not at my Mac now, but will of course check them, too.

    Kevin

  13. What’s puzzling to me is that the company that bought the app, Applause, supposedly buys apps all of the time and is supposed to make the transition easy for the developer. You would think with that experience, they wouldn’t botch the transition.

  14. I’ve disabled the check for updates option and will stick with 5.0.49. No reason to give them even more info they can sell to trackers. Hard to tell why the original dev sold it though. I will have to look into the GitHub alternative though.

  15. I’ve switched to ice.

    The only thing I’ll miss of Bartender is the “search for menu item” feature but I expect that to come to ice in due course.

    Terrible name, though, ice. Talk about unsearchable and undiscoverable.

  16. [Just moving this over from a separate thread to keep everything in one place—I didn’t want to preserve chronology when moving it because it would have sorted before the original article. -Adam]

    Just FYI for all; I’ve been using this app for a while, again especially after getting the MacBook Air with the notch.

    Popular Mac app Bartender appears to have been quietly sold approximately two months ago, with neither the prior owner nor the current owner providing customers or potential customers with information on the sale.

    The transaction came to light after some Reddit users saw a warning from MacUpdater letting them know that the company behind Bartender had been silently replaced. MacUpdater warned users that updates to the app from version 5.0.52 could be potentially unsafe due to the lack of transparency surrounding the situation.

    Bartender’s new owners replied to the Reddit thread and confirmed that Bartender had been acquired, but did not explain why customers had not been notified nor why there had been a certificate change without said explanation.

    This was discovered initially by MacUpdater and there is a long reddit thread about it, with a summary at the top:

    And, while I haven’t tried it myself yet, for those interested there is apparently an open-source possible alternative called Ice (which requires Sonoma):

    (This I learned in a mastodon post by Steve Streza.)

  17. I installed Ice and uninstalled Bartender yesterday. For me Bartender is/was better, particularly for dealing with the way Apple deals with icons that would be behind the notch. It’s too bad Apple hasn’t dealt with this better - for a while today I couldn’t access all of the icons there, including OneDrive, and once OneDrive is running the only way to access its settings (that I could find) is to option-click the icon - opening the app again simply opens the OneDrive folder in the Finder.

    I thought about trying to find an older version of Bartender until it stops working, but then I figured that was just a long wait until something changes and an update would be required. I may still go back to that if I can’t manage the menu bar with Ice - but I think I have it working ok, with the search icon banished, WiFi, battery, and fast user switching icons put in control center, the date removed from the clock icon (and I may switch to analog to get a bit more space), and using terminal commands to change the default spacing between icons in the menu bar. Which, for the curious, is supposed to be:

    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain NSStatusItemSpacing -int *X*
    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain NSStatusItemSelectionPadding -int *X*
    

    Where “*X*” is the spacing that you want; apparently “6” is the default spacing (at least on my M2 MacBook Air) from the testing I’ve done with changing these values. I should add that you need to logout/login to have the changes take effect. The instructions I read online suggested that “killall ControlCenter” would make the changes, but it doesn’t for me.

    I did use AppCleaner to remove Bartender, and that seemed to get everything, but I did first turn off the settings in Settings / Privacy & Security (under Accessibility and Screen & System Audio Recording) that Bartender has you set to allow it to work.

  18. MacRumors today posted an article with info on six potential alternative apps (including Ice), plus a link to a tutorial on how some of Bartender’s functionality can be replicated using BetterTouchTool (which keeps revealing itself to be a far more versatile utility than it appears on the surface.)

  19. I just added this bit to the piece, confirming my belief that the post from Ben Surtees was legitimate.

    Since the initial publication of this piece, I have corresponded via email with Ben Surtees, who confirmed that he wrote the post:

    I did write the post, to try and help clear up some of the concern caused by the lack of clarity. I also linked this to the same on surteesstudios.com so people could tell it was me (surtees studios is still mine). The reason the base url redirects is so that people looking for Bartender support get to the bartender website, in some of the license emails it linked to surteesstudios.com

    He also said that he had spoken to Applause about the addition of the Amplitude digital analytics framework, which he believes they added purely “to get an idea of the user base.” He didn’t believe they thought it would cause such an uproar, which it probably wouldn’t have without the signing certificate issue drawing attention. I have also reached out to Applause and will update this article if I hear back.

  20. That is not a comment which suggests much experience or knowledge of the difficulties of writing this kind of application. Size is irrelevant. Maintaining software which has hooks deep in the OS is a distinctly non-trivial task and requires constant vigilance for, and rapid attention to, problems caused by application conflicts and OS updates. I found maintaining Apollo in the 1990s difficult enough. I expect it would be a great deal trickier now.

  21. Agree… sounds BS to me as not only was Ben maintaining the app, he was promising even more functionality, such as Menu Bar Widgets!

    Thankfully, MacUpdater saved my bacon and I’m still at 5.0.49 — :+1: for MacUpdater.

  22. I am going to try this on my MacBook Pro. There is only one item that hides behind the notch. I have lived with a workaround which is to cmd drag another item to the left. This makes the one hidden appear. The other one disappears.

  23. I agree…going to try the alternatives and see if something without the tracking works…and also the spacing thing. As another longtime user…I’m pretty unhappy about this as well…but it’s Ben’s app to do what he wants with and given I saw he made a million bucks or so in 2023 with it I’m sure he got a nice price and can move on to something else he wants to do.

  24. It would be nice to have a strategy of some kind to monitor those apps where unusual permissions and accessibility are granted to apps such as bartender

  25. Outcome for me from all has been:

    • deleted Bartender and easily learned to live without it
    • installed and purchased MacUpdater
  26. For anyone who still may be interested, Applause issued a new version 5.0.53, explaining (and apologizing) for the bad way they released it. The new version removes the Amplitude digital analytics framework entirely, explaining that they initially included it (as Adam said in his note) to get an idea of the user base.

    I have installed it (after having to reset the permissions) and it seems to be working fine. I am going to keep using it for now – it meets my needs. I thinks they did a terrible job of managing the transition, but I don’t think they have bad intent.

    I don’t see the new version on their website yet – I got it as an autoupdate from the older version.

  27. The announcement is included in the update itself and is as described in the Reddit link you posted. I looked for a separate link but did not find one.

  28. It took me a little while to find it… They have a test builds tab on the release notes page:

    https://www.macbartender.com/Bartender5/release_notes/
    I also noticed in Bartender settings, under Advanced, you can check for Test Builds, which I guess should also work but I’d already downloaded.

    and also found while searching, a BTT post about how to use BetterTouchTool for menu bar manipulation:

  29. I’m using Bartender for some time as part of my Setapp subscription. It’s still on version 5.0.48. I’m not sure whether I can prevent Setapp from updating it to the latest version.
    The application bundle was created Dec 18 2023 and it’s size is reported as 19.1MB (23.7MB physical).

  30. Depending on what one wants to accomplish, here is another utility that may work:

  31. I did the following:

    1. Quit the app
    2. Moved the app to the trash and deleted it.
    3. Did a Spotlight search for Bartender and clicked show in Finder
    4. Selected all the relevant items in batches, moved them to Trash, and then Emptied the Trash.
    5. Repeated Step 4 until all were gone. This took care of both the drive on my iMac and the CCC clones.
    6. Reran a Spotlight search with nothing found.

    Now I was limited to version 3 because I’m maxed out at High Sierra, so these steps may or may not work for you.

  32. On a slightly related note, if you downloaded an app from the Mac AppStore and the first thing it did was try to connect to a crypto website api, how would I investigate if there’s any issue with it?

    I don’t have the expertise to run it in a sandbox but I’m very curious as to why a Mac desktop widget app would be getting crypto data… I’m guessing that perhaps one of the widgets could be a “get my wallet value” widget, but it shouldn’t need to connect to the API before even loading any of the app windows.

    I did report it, but haven’t got the response yet. Happy to send the app detail to someone, I don’t want to disparage it publicly yet if I’m wrong.

    Cheers,
    Nick

  33. A common technique (scam?) for shady app developers to make some extra money is to use your computer for crypto-mining. So you pay the electricity, your CPU gets overloaded, and they get the money.

    If you see such a thing, uninstall it and report it to Apple.

  34. This particular case may have been merely a matter of bungling, but there are cases when the owners of a small business may have no control over its sale. Examples include bankruptcy sales, a will that directs the executor to sell the business for the optimum return, or an owner who dies intestate.

  35. I’m gonna stick with it… let’s see how it goes.

  36. Setapp have been asked for comment; I get it via them. But none yet, while their version is on an older .48 version (not the last .52 version). Why that is… who knows - perhaps they added then removed the tracking crap? :man_shrugging:

  37. Yeah, I’m with you. I have come to rely on Bartender’s triggers to temporarily show items, something I’ve not seen in any of the alternatives. But even aside from that, when this thing first blew up I decided I’d just stick with my last pre-acquisition version (I save downloads for utilities like this that I rely on) and see how things settled down before making a decision.

    At the moment I’m cautiously optimistic. People make mistakes. I’m willing to be understanding as long as I can be confident my data’s not being stolen. Their latest blog post seems honest and reasonable. Given the spotlight on Bartender I am confident that any nefarious activity will quickly be detected, so will take a wait-and-see approach as new versions are released. I certainly don’t see the point in deleting my existing copy which is pre-acquisition and working. And I look forward to the features they have planned. :crossed_fingers:

  38. This is the settings I ended up with.
    Spacing 9
    Padding 6
    Spacing 10 makes the leftmost disappear.
    I am not sure if you need to set padding at all if the only thing you want is to change spacing. I am happy so I will not experiment further.

    I have also noted that I can use these commands to check what my settings are. And that they are not set at all by Apple. Found this on Reddit.

    defaults -currentHost read -globalDomain NSStatusItemSpacing
    defaults -currentHost read -globalDomain NSStatusItemSelectionPadding

    And logout/login to have the changes take effect, as @ddmiller says.

  39. I just wanted to (respectfully but strongly) take issue with this.

    I use VDR and don’t think there’s anything close to a credible alternative for some things that it does (SpeechCentral comes close, combined with Listen Later), so the acquisition/handover was a big deal for me. The fact that it’s sandboxed doesn’t make me any happier about the radical uptick in analytics data that it sends, regardless of whether Applause are bad people or not (and I agree, FWIW, that they are probably not) because I ultimately have to entrust sensitive data to it. And, of course, in that case, as in this, they bungled the communication horribly.

    One may hope sincerely that they learn from this, continue to use their apps, and still be concerned about the increased risks… IMO, it’s not a question of how the app is technically limited, or the platform it runs on. It’s a question of whether you trust Applause, in spite of the concerns. I’m glad there are alternatives for Bartender users.

  40. Hi. I wonder if you had a guide for moving from BT to Hidden Bar? I tried that on my M2 MBA which has a notch. The items I have as always showing in BT show, but all the hidden items can’t be found. Additionally, I don’t get either the chevron (>) or the vertical bar (|) in the menu bar. I’ve written the developer of Hidden Bar to see if they can shed some light but so far, nothing. I also tried Ice, from GitHub, but again, could show the always present items but couldn’t find the hidden ones. Thanks for any light you might be able to shed.

  41. I found the same issue…so if you get some resolution please post it. For now, I just stuck with Ben’s last version 5.0.49.

  42. Thanks, I’ve grabbed aNotch and set that as well to auto launch although TBH I probably don’t really need it. Maybe Hidden Bar will get fixed.

  43. At this point, I’d recommend the beta, not the current, of Ice Bar on Github. Search for it. It’s currently free and the beta is so BT like, it’s amazing. The author is doing a lot of work since working with the stupid notch is at the top of most wanted features.

  44. And I did…and it’s somewhat confusing. The settings don’t have (at least in 0.9.0 which I downloaded and it said it was the latest) the visible, hidden, and always hidden sections that the Read Me file shows. And on initial launch…everything was shown in the Hidden section and there were a bunch of icons that didn’t show up at all even in Hidden. I was able to add the divider and command drag things from hidden to visible which worked but even quitting and relaunching a couple times didn’t show the settings window that matched the Read Me or all of the existing items for me to move to the various sections. I’ll keep track on it…unless I’m must completely missing something…and see what the eventual 1.0 brings but went back to Ben’s last Bartender release for now. I also looked at zNotch which moves the menu bar below the notch at the expense of a little screen real estate but it didn’t look like something I would want to keep all the time although with a hot key I could switch to it, get to the icons in the notch, and then go back to normal menubar location.

  45. I use the Uninstall feature in TrashMe 3. It does a splendid job of uninstalling the app and all of its supporting files in one fell swoop.

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