The European Commission (EC) has chastised Apple for failing to make changes to help prevent children from making inadvertent purchases within mobile apps or parents from receiving unexpected bills.
The EC announced July 18 that it has joined forces with national authorities to address the issue, and their actions are delivering “tangible results”—just not from Apple.
In December the commission communicated certain points to Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe that games advertised as “free” shouldn’t be misleading about the costs involved, that games shouldn’t encourage children to make purchases, that payment arrangements should be communicated clearly and not debited through default settings, and that apps should provide clearly stated email addresses to which consumers can communicate questions or complaints.
In February, the commission hosted Apple, Google and others during multi-day discussions of the “booming” app economy and how they might all address problems that have arisen from so-called freemium apps—apps that are free to download but offer purchasable items during play, or for additional features.
In January, Apple settled a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), by agreeing to pay a minimum of $32.5 million to consumers who received unexpected bills—often after signing into the App Store and then handing an iPhone or iPad to a child, not realizing that the iOS default setting left open a 15-minute purchase window during which the input of a password was unnecessary to make purchases.
In April it began the reimbursement process.
Google has instigated a number of changes, said the EC. By the end of September, the word free won’t be used when games contain in-app purchases; new guidelines for developers will make clear EU laws and consumer protections; and changes will be made to Android default settings, so that authorization is required before every in-app purchase, unless the consumer actively changes the setting.
“Regrettably,” the EC continued, “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,” but no timing details or firm commitment has been made, and so authorities will continue to “engage with Apple” to ensure it puts “its practices into line with the common position.”
The EC has also invited the various associations of online game developers and platforms to reflect on concrete ways in which they might address the in-app payment issue, including “the possibility for guidelines or standards.”
The EC added, “Enforcement, including possible legal action, is in the hands of the national authorities, which will now consider how to address outstanding legal issues.