In-app purchases – better protection for consumers in online games
This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces. I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results. This is significant for consumers. 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 cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all Member States – said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica.
A common position agreed by national authorities within the CPC network and communicated to Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe in December 2013 asked that:
- Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
- Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
- Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
- Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.
Making use of the consumer protection cooperation mechanism provided by EU rules, Apple, Google and relevant trade associations were asked to provide concrete solutions across the EU to the concerns raised.
Google has decided on a number of changes. Implementation is underway and will be completed by the end of September 2014. These include not using the word “free” at all when games contain in-app purchases, developing targeted guidelines for its app developers to prevent direct exhortation to children as defined under EU law and time-framed measures to help monitor apparent breaches of EU consumer laws. It has also adapted its default settings, so that payments are authorised prior to every in-app purchase, unless the consumer actively chooses to modify these settings.
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 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.