European Commission meets with app industry to ensure ‘free’ downloads are just that

28 Feb 2014

Image via Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

In response to complaints from all over Europe, the European Commission (EC) is holding talks with national enforcement authorities and large tech companies to discuss how consumers downloading apps can be better protected.

The European app economy employs more than 1m people and generates about €10bn per year in revenue. Currently, more than half of the online games available in the EU are advertised as ‘free’, but this is not always the case throughout the entirety of the game.

In-app purchases, whether necessary or optional, are common in the app world. There are even some cases where consumers are not fully aware their credit card is being charged while they play and many instances where children have run up huge bills for their parents while using apps.

“The use of the word ‘free’ (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis,” reads the EC’s position in a statement.

Protecting consumers and credibility

As European Commissioner Neven Mimica, who is responsible for consumer policy, puts it, this issue “not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market.”

Finding common understanding between authorities and app developers in this case would be, according to Mimica, “a win-win for all”.

As well as misleading advertising, the talks, which began yesterday and continue today, will also discuss games directed at children that encourage in-app purchases, the need for explicit consent to charge users and the inclusion of an email address for consumers to contact if they have queries or complaints.

These meetings are seen as an opportunity to achieve common understanding between EU member states’ authorities and the app industry, which will be asked to commit to providing solutions that ensure proper consumer protection within a specified time frame. Following that, the EC will follow up on necessary actions with consumer rights enforcement bodies.

Apps image via Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.