In-App Smartphone Purchases Probed in EU
(CN) - The growing problem of inadvertent purchases made on Google or Apple device applications faces inquiry by the European Commission and EU member states, regulators said Friday.
After a large number of complaints throughout the EU over in-app purchases in online games - often by children - the commission and national authorities reached out to Apple, Google and trade associations last December to address the problem.
Specifically, regulators ordered that game makers not include hidden costs in games advertised as free and that they stop automatically debiting consumer accounts for purchases. They also asked app retailers to stop advertising directly to children to buy items in a game or have an adult buy the items for them.
Google - which is facing a class action in the United States over its practice of requiring Android phone sellers to preload cellphones with Google apps - promised to stop using the word "free" when apps contain in-game purchases, and will have its default settings changed to opt-in debiting by September, the commission said Friday.
But Apple has not yet given solid commitments as to when or how it will change its apps, according to the commission's statement.
"Although, regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorization, Apple has proposed to address those concerns," the commission said. "However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes. Authorities will continue to engage with Apple to ensure that it provides specific details of changes required and put its practices into line with the common position."
While in-app purchases are legitimate business pursuits, it is "essential for app makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.
Consumer policy commissioner Neven Mimica praised the app makers already on board with the commission's plan.
"This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces," Mimica said in a statement. "This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organize the enforcement of consumer rights in the EU. It has demonstrated that cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all member states."
For now, enforcement - including possible legal action for failing to comply
- is up to national authorities. The commission said it will, however, continue to monitor compliance.