It looks like the European Commission (the legal branch of the European Union) has something to say about Apple’s policies regarding in-app purchases.
Last week, the Commission called Apple out on the company’s failure to put an end to inadvertent in-app purchases especially when it came to children. The Commission pointed out that Google has been committed to get the mess sorted once and for all while Apple has not done the same.
Apple has not come up with a firm commitments to change policies. The company has only put forward a couple of proposals and that’s it. “Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns,” the Commission said.
The European Commission has recently joined forces with national authorities to get Apple and Google to change their policies. This comes after massive amount of complaints have been lodged by consumers stating that they have been forced to pay thousands for in app purchases that they have never authorized. The main concern revolved around ‘free’ apps such as games that had in app purchases which were the main way children were unknowingly spending their parents’ money.
The Commission has explained that this could directly violate European Union laws especially if there was solicitation of children to buy the in app features. It was just last year that authorities of consumer protection had asked Apple and Google as well as Interactive Software Federation of Europe to make changes to in app purchases. The term ‘free’ apps in the apps store are misleading consumers about the real add on costs that they could incur. Consumers are being persuaded to buy in app features or are being put at risk when a child has control of the mobile devices. Consumers should be fully informed of these add on costs of the ‘free’ apps and should be given an email address to contact companies if a wrong purchase is made.
“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,” an Apple spokesman has explained. He further stated that the parental controls that Apple has enforced regarding the matter go far and beyond any other company in the industry.
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.
The CPC has stated that only where in app purchases are optional can the app be labeled as ‘free’. Apple has proposed creating a specific email address through which enforcement authorities can inform Apple about possible violations of applicable law and coordinate discussions with the developers concerned. A further proposal has stated that Apple will look into appointing a team to deal with such notifications, but so far, no precise implementation date for these proposals has been put forward.
On the other hand, Google has been receiving many praises for its efforts to offer solutions to this serious problem. The company has committed to changes that should be enforced by the end of September. Google no longer uses the term ‘free’ for any apps that need in app purchases. Google will also develop guidelines for its app developers to prevent direct exhortation to children as defined under EU law, as well as measures to help monitor apparent breaches of EU consumer laws. It has also adapted its default settings, so that payments are authorized prior to every in-app purchase, unless the consumer actively chooses to modify these settings.
The European Commission has explained that it will continue to keep a watchful eye over this matter. If Apple doesn’t move to make any solid changes, the company could be in some serious trouble with the European Union.