Google Begins In-App Purchase Refund Process Under FTC Settlement

The company has started sending email notices to parents whose children made unauthorized purchases on how to claim refunds.

Google refunds

Google will soon start sending out refunds to parents of children who made unauthorized in-app purchases on Google Play without first obtaining parental consent.

The company this week began notifying consumers on how to claim the refund after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) formally signed off on a settlement agreement entered into by Google over the issue in September.

Under the agreement, Google must refund a minimum of $19 million to parents who paid for unauthorized purchases on Google Play.

Google has 15 days from when the decree is finalized to inform parents of the refund process. It then has one calendar year to complete the refunds. Any unused money from the amount set aside toward settlement must be remitted to the FTC.

"We understand some parents might have been charged for in-app purchases made by young children who did not have permission to make those purchases," Google said in an emailed notice.

If the purchases were made between March 1, 2011, and Nov. 18, 2014, Google will refund the charges, the company said. The email instructed recipients to sign into their Google account, review their in-app purchase history, select purchases that were made without consent and submit the details to Google.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google agreed to September's $19 million consent decree to settle FTC charges that the company illegally billed millions of consumers for in-app purchases made by children without first obtaining the go-ahead from the actual account holders.

Google introduced in-app charges in 2011 and initially required no password or other authorization for users making purchases on Google Play. In many applications used by children, there's little to differentiate between virtual purchases and purchases made online with real money, the FTC had noted in its complaint. Children often made such purchases, sometimes racking up hundreds of dollars in charges, all without parental consent or authorization.

"Children could incur in-app charges simply by clicking on pop-up boxes within the app as they used it," the commission had pointed out in announcing the settlement.

Even a change introduced by Google in mid-to-late 2012 that required account holders to enter their password before billing was inadequate and still left the door open for unauthorized purchases by children.

In its email letter this week, Google said it has added new tools to help parents avoid the issue of unauthorized in-app purchases by their children.

The FTC extracted a similar agreement with Apple earlier this year under which the tech giant has agreed to pay a minimum of $32.5 million to parents whose children made mobile app purchases without parental consent. Apple also agreed to modify its billing practices as part of the consent decree.

Many of the complaints raised against Google by the FTC were identical to the ones alleged against Apple.

The FCC has also targeted Amazon over in-app billing issues. Though Amazon claims it has made changes designed to protect against unauthorized billing, the FTC sued the company in July for unjustly enriching itself via the practice. Amazon itself has said it is willing to go to court to defend against the FTC's charges that it hasn't done enough to protect parents against unauthorized purchases by their children.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.