If a Web service makes it too easy for unauthorized persons to purchase items online, there's eventually going to be hell to pay for it.
The Federal Trade Commission, contending that Google made it too easy for children to make in-app purchases in the Google Play store using their parents' devices, on Sept. 4 ordered the giant Web services company to refund about $19 million to the device users for those illicit transactions.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Back in January, the FTC levied a large fine on Apple for the same reason; that one totaled $32.5 million. Amazon, the world's largest online merchant, also was cited by the FTC over the same issue but decided to pursue litigation against it last July.
Following its yearlong investigation, the FTC came to the conclusion that the Google Play app store lacked protections in its billing process, allowing children to make hundreds of dollars' worth of purchases for games and other online services through mobile apps.
As a result, Google has agreed to toughen its application- and game-shopping apparatus with more password screening and notifications to confirm buyer consent, the FTC said in a news release.
"As more Americans embrace mobile technology, it's vital to remind companies that time-tested consumer protections still apply, including that consumers should not be charged for purchases they did not authorize," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement to the press.
Some of Google Play's payment security breaches dated back to 2012 and included failure to warn users about a 30-minute window between times when a password was required. This enabled children to make unlimited purchases of items they could use in online games, the FTC said.
Generally, the problem centers on ostensible "free" apps—many of which are games—that target children and then encourage further in-app purchases. In some cases, purchases can cost up to $200. Parents were often unaware that these games could cost actual money.