European consumers now have a 14-day window to seek refunds from Apple for any digital app or content purchases that are downloaded and paid for instantly without giving them a chance to change their minds before the purchase is finalized.
The new rules only affect purchases made by Apple customers through Apple's iTunes or App Store services and only affect content purchases that are downloaded automatically into customer accounts, according to a Dec. 30 story by The Sydney Morning Herald. The "no questions asked" refund policy only affects customers who live in European Union member countries and applies to any songs, apps or books that are purchased, the story reported. "If a user downloads the content manually to another device, the refund does not apply," the report continued.
"Apple previously allowed users to cancel a transaction at any time until point of delivery, but because automatic downloads often cause content to be delivered instantly upon payment this didn't actually allow users any time to change their minds," the Herald reported.
The change has not been widely publicized by Apple, but was discovered by a German Website, iFun, according to the paper. "The new policy follows the EU's Consumer Rights Directive, which took effect in June and mandates a two-week return period for any reason. The directive states that if a return policy is misleading or unclear, the return period is automatically extended to one year. It is not apparent why Apple has waited so long to institute the new policy."
The new policy will not affect Apple customers in the United States or elsewhere.
The Apple App store marked its sixth anniversary in July.
This is certainly not the first time that European regulators have cracked down on some of Apple's sales practices.
In November, Apple stopped tagging apps as "free" in its app store to comply with requests from European regulators, who had been actively fighting labels on apps that say they are free but ultimately can involve in-app purchases. To resolve the dispute, Apple relabeled the formerly "free" apps with a new label that says "get," which still allows consumers to download them but clarifies that they are not necessarily free for all functions and options. The changes were made to help consumers fight inadvertent purchases, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
The "free" app controversy began in February when the European Commission (EC) began looking into the way that apps were labeled online after receiving many complaints from consumers about being billed for charges even though specific apps were free to download. Apple and Google had meetings with the EC to discuss the issue, and Google made changes earlier this summer in its approach to apps distribution in its online Google Play store.
The EC had told Apple and Google that labeling apps as free and then charging consumers to use extra features was problematic. Customers were often not fully aware that they were spending money because their credit cards were charged by default, even though the apps had been labeled as free. The EC said earlier that it had received complaints on the matter from all over Europe. The problem typically involved children who downloaded and played games and then used extra features without knowing that there would be charges to get them.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has also come down on Apple for not being clearer about in-app purchases. In January, Apple agreed to pay $32.5 million to settle a complaint with the FTC that said Apple had violated the FTC Act by failing to make clear to parents that by entering their Apple ID to download an app, they were also leaving open a 15-minute window during which kids could make in-app purchases. In one of the more hair-raising examples offered, a woman said that her daughter had spent $2,600 playing an app called "Tap Pet Hotel."
Earlier this year, the EC had chastised Apple for failing to make changes to help prevent children from making inadvertent purchases within mobile apps or parents from receiving unexpected bills. In July, the EC joined forces with national authorities to address the issue and seek tangible results to solve the problem.