The European Commission (EC) and EU member states claim their intervention to better protect consumers when making in-app purchases has had a real impact.
In December 2013, the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network, which links national consumer authorities in a European-wide enforcement network, informed Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe of a common set of rules that they should adhere to around payment for apps.
These rules include that games advertised as free should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved, and should not contain direct encouragement to children to buy items. The aim of the latter is to tackle the issue of children making purchases without the knowledge of their parents.
In addition, consumers should be adequately informed about payment arrangements, and default settings should not allow them to be charged without their consent. An email address should be provided so consumers can contact companies if they have queries or complaints.
The organisations contacted were requested to provide “concrete solutions” to meet these requirements across the EU, and the EC now claims these efforts are delivering tangible results.
Google is due to implement changes in September, which include ending the use of the word ‘free’ when games contain in-app purchases, providing guidelines to prevent direct exhortation to children to make purchases, and changing default setting so in-app purchase payments are always authorised.
Apple also said it will address these concerns, although no timing on this has been given. CPC officials will continue to work with Apple to ensure it provides details on what it intends to do to comply.
The EC and EU member states also invited feedback from developers and platforms about measures they could take to address the issues.
Neven Mimica, EU commissioner for consumer policy, said the enforcement demonstrates that “cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all member states”.
Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission with responsibility for the Digital Agenda, said the Commission is “very supportive of innovation in the app sector” and that in-app purchases are “a legitimate business model”.
However she added that “it’s essential for app-makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models”.
The US Federal Trade Commission recently announced legal action against Amazon in relation to in-app purchases, while Apple agreed to refund parents who had lost money in this way to the tune of $32.5 million in January.
Back in March, the EC and EU member states stressed that they would raise consumer concerns with the mobile app industry, to help the app economy develop its full potential.