Bartender Mac App Under New Ownership

Published under Mango Paper, Jun 5, 2024

There is a Reddit thread about the new Bartender ownership situation.

MacUpdater, a Mac app that helps you track and update all your Mac apps, put a warning about the new Bartender release. u/CoreCode from MacUpdater has a very detailed explanation why they added the warning. Calling out two points:

This is concerning because 'App Sub 1 LLC' seems to be a dubious company publishing a few low quality iPad apps ( and with an equally dubious homepage ( why was their certificate used to sign Bartender releases?

On 15. May the final release of Bartender 5.0.52 was released and again it was not signed by the known-and-safe 'Surtees Studios Limited (8DD663WDX4)' but by a 'Bartender App LLC (24J875RH8J)' never seen before

u/Ordinary_Delivery_79, self-claimed as the new Bartender owner responded:

Hey everyone, new owners of Bartender here! Our team acquired Bartender from Ben S, the original developer, two months ago. As we prepare to roll out updates for Bartender, we needed to re-sign the app with Apple using our company's information, replacing Ben's. This led to a one-time certificate change.

Truth be told, we should have notated it on the release notes but, since we could not update them retroactively, we included this fact on our blog & shared it with users as they emailed us. We've collaborated closely with Ben to understand his vision for Bartender. Our goal is to implement many of the improvements he had planned and address any reported bugs from the past few months to enhance Bartender's performance.

But there are no other information and this doesn't reassure users.

Jason Snell on Sixcolors:

These things happen—no developer should be chained to their software forever—but it’s odd that (anonymous?) new owners could appear without any communication to existing Bartender customers beyond a note saying a certificate had been changed. It’s Apple’s rules around signing app binaries, and the attention of MacUpdater, that brought this out into the open at all.

A glance around the Bartender website does reveal that while Surtees celebrated 12 years of Bartender in a blog post announcing version 5, posts from 2024 read more like SEO spam, with “key takeaways” summaries at the top, followed by unrelated Mac tips, followed by a pitch for Bartender.

Juli Clover from MacRumors:

At this point, it does not appear that Bartender's new owners plan to inform customers about the change in ownership, but users should be aware that the app has been sold and is no longer being updated by the original developer. The new owner's intentions are not clear, but as Reddit users have pointed out, the situation raises some red flags.

Filipe Espósito from 9to5mac:

Even so, it still seems a bit suspicious that the new developers only introduced themselves after all the controversy. Some users said they didn’t trust the app’s new owners and uninstalled it. Bartender’s official website has no mention of the acquisition.

Craig Hockenberry:

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.

Jeff Johnson:

I am doing fine, hope to be an indie dev forever, have no plans to sell StopTheMadness, and indeed never had an acquisition offer, but if someone totally mad offered me $millions for it, I absolutely would owe my customers an announcement.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a sacred responsibility to run my native code on other people’s computers, and I take that responsibility seriously. Your customers trusted you, and any developer who violates that trust harms all other developers.

I personally don't use Bartender. My only need is to hide some of the rarely used menu bar items, and to make them available only when needed. The open source Hidden Bar app meets my exact need.

UPDATE on 2024-06-05: Ben Surtees, the original creator of Bartender, came out with a statement:

It's Ben Surtees, the original developer of Bartender. Twelve years ago, I embarked on a journey to create Bartender, a macOS app designed to help you manage your menu bar items. Over the years, it has been incredibly rewarding to see Bartender grow and become an essential tool for so many of you. Your support and feedback have been invaluable in shaping the app into what it is today.

After the release of Bartender 5, 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. It required a dedicated team that could provide continuous support, innovate, and keep up with the fast-evolving macOS landscape. This realization led me to make a difficult decision.

This reads a genuine statement. Though the recent likely AI-written blog posts on Bartender's blog don't increase much of my confidence in the story.

UPDATE on 2024-06-06: According to u/pulsarsolar from a user support email with the new owner:

We've removed Amplitude from the latest test build (v5.0.53).

UPDATE on 2024-06-08: Adam Engst from TidBITS:

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.