EC slams Apple for in-app purchase policies

Apple maintained that its parental controls "go far beyond the features of others in the industry"

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

The European Commission took Apple to task Friday for failing to firmly commit to stopping inadvertent in-app purchases, particularly those made by children.

While Google has committed to making changes, Apple has not, the Commission said.

"Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns," the Commission said. While Apple has offered proposals to address the problem, it hasn't made a firm commitment or given timing for implementing them, the Commission said.

Following a large number of complaints about in-app purchases in online games, the Commission joined forces with national authorities to get Google and Apple to change their policies. One of the main worries is the offering of "free" app games by developers who seek to make money through in-app purchases, for instance by selling virtual armor and weaponry.

This practice could break EU laws, especially if apps directly solicit children to buy in-app goods, the Commission said.

Last December, consumer protection authorities asked Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe to make changes to in-app purchases in games.

Games that are advertised as "free" should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved, nor should they contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them. Moreover, consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers' explicit consent. Companies should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

An Apple spokesman said in an email Friday that its parental controls "go far beyond the features of others in the industry."

"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," he said. Apple will continue to work with the Commission and member states to respond to their concerns, he said.

Apple has started displaying the text "In-App Purchases" in close proximity to the download button for all apps that are marketed on Apple's platforms as "free", members of the European Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network said in a position paper published Friday. However, the font of the "In-App Purchases" text is considerably smaller than the word "FREE" and may be difficult to read on smaller screens, they said.

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