Google has agreed to add protections around games’ in-app purchases to ensure that children won’t rack up unwanted charges on their parents’ credit cards. The changes come at the request of the European Commission, which has been investigating the ongoing issue of unwanted in-app purchases and is today laying out a series of guidelines that it would like developers and app stores to comply with. Google has said that by the end of September, it will cease to advertise games as “free” when they include in-app purchases and that it will also require payment verification before each purchase. It’s unclear if these changes will be exclusive to Europe, however.
Apple has also agreed to make changes at the behest of the commission, but it hasn’t agreed to any specific actions or any time line. This is much to the commission’s disapproval, but Apple doesn’t seem particular concerned. In a statement to the BBC, Apple actually says that it’s doing “more than others” to protect consumers from in-app purchases, pointing specifically to the upcoming iOS 8 feature Ask to Buy, which prevents children from making purchases and instead allows them to send that purchase to a parent for approval.
In its guidelines, the commission asks that games advertised as free ensure that they do not mislead consumers about their true costs, that games do not directly ask children to make purchases (or to have a parent make purchases for them), that games make it clear how payments are made, and that games provide an email address that consumers can contact with questions and complaints. “In-app purchases are a legitimate business model,” EC vice president Neelie Kroes says, “but it’s essential for app-makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models.”
From here, the commission says that law enforcement concerning the marketing of in-app purchases will be left to national authorities, but that it would continue to monitor the issue. In the US, legal action has already been taken over kids’ ability to make purchases. The Federal Trade Commission recently began a lawsuit against Amazon in an attempt to make it refund customers “millions of dollars” in unauthorized charges, and Apple settled with the commission earlier this year over the same type of issues, agreeing to offer $32.5 million in refunds to customers billed for unwanted charges.