Good Google, bad Apple — EU reports back on in-app purchase reform

by tech on July 18, 2014

At the end of last year the European Commission, along with European national authorities, told Google and Apple that they needed to sort out issues around in-app purchases – particularly as they relate to children who may unwittingly rack up huge bills for their parents to pay.

On Friday the Commission reported back on the progress that’s been made so far. And while it’s happy overall, it’s a lot more so with Google’s response than it is with Apple’s.

While Google is making a bunch of consumer protection changes that will be in place by the end of September, Apple has given “no firm commitment and no timing” for making its own app ecosystem less risky for parents and those who don’t pay sufficient attention.

Perhaps Cupertino might care to see what Google’s committed itself to doing, in line with the guidelines set out in late 2013:

  • Games that feature in-app purchases will no longer be advertised as “free.”
  • App developers will be discouraged from “direct exhortation to children,” meaning they won’t have prompts to make in-app purchases that specifically target kids.
  • By default, in-app purchase payments can’t go through without authorization each time they occur.

In all fairness, since the introduction of iOS 4.3 back in 2011, Apple has required a password for each in-app purchase that’s made more than 15 minutes after the last. That’s not much use if the “buy more gems” prompts are coming in thick and fast, though.

Apple told the Guardian: “The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable. And over the last year we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked. We’ve also created a Kids Section on the App Store with even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13.”

Online game developers and platforms are also being asked to work out similar measures, although their associations — the European Games Developer Federation (EGDF) and the International Social Games Association (ISGA) – only joined the discussions early this year.

If they and Apple don’t play ball, enforcement would be down to the national consumer protection authorities of the various European member states.

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