Apple gets bruising criticism from EU for inaction on in-app purchases

18 Jul 2014

The European Commission has chided Apple for failing to take action on the plague of in-app purchases in online games, which leads to inadvertent purchases by children.

Following a large number of complaints in EU countries concerning in-app purchases, national authorities have joined forces with the European Commission to find solutions.

One of these solutions is a co-ordinated enforcement action on in-app purchases that is delivering tangible results, the Commission said.

“This is significant for consumers,” said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica.

“In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumer rights in the union.

“It has demonstrated that co-operation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all member states.”

A common position was agreed by national authorities and communicated to Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe late last year.

As part of this it was decided that games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true cost involved.

Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or persuade an adult to buy items for them.

Consumers should not be debited through default settings with out explicit consent.

And traders should provide an email address so consumers can contact them with queries or complains.

Google gets a good star

Google has decided on a number of changes that will be implemented by September, including not using the word “free” when games contain in-app purchases, banning direct exhortations to children and changing default settings to ensure payments are authorised prior to in-app purchases.

Apple, however, has yet to respond to the call for action by the European Commission.

“Although, regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation, Apple has proposed to address those concerns.

“However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes.

“CPC (consumer protection co-operation) authorities will continue to engage with Apple to ensure that it provides specific details of changes required and put its practices into line with the common position,” the Commission stated.

Kid with tablet computer image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years