Apple has been criticised by the EU for its lack of commitment to addressing in-app purchase concerns. However, its rival Google was praised for implementing the necessary changes to its Play Store.
Many free apps, particularly games, often come bundled with in-app purchases that allow users to unlock extra content or progress further in a game. This has led to some people running up huge costs as they inadvertently purchase expensive virtual items for real money.
Children are considered particularly vulnerable to in-app purchases and there are plenty of stories of kids using their parent’s credit cards to unknowingly rack up thousands of pounds’ worth of purchases.
After a barrage of complaints, the EU is working alongside national authorities to establish several common positions to ensure that app vendors adequately inform their customers about in-app purchases.
These rules include ensuring that free games do not encourage children to buy items and consumers must be adequately informed about payment process for in-app purchases.
EU commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica was positive about the action being taken. “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,” said Mimica.
As the largest vendors of apps, pressure has been put on both Apple and Google to address concerns that in-app purchases are not adequately communicated to consumers.
However, while Google has been praised for removing the term “free” from any games that include in-app purchases, the EU expressed disappointment that Apple has no “concrete and immediate solutions” to the problem.
“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,” it said.
In a statement to V3 Apple said it was doing all it could to address the concerns people may have about in-app purchases. “Apple takes great pride in leading the industry in parental controls that are incredibly easy to use and help ensure a great experience for parents and children on the App Store,” it said.
“The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customisable. 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.”
The company also revealed that iOS 8 will have an “Ask to Buy” feature that requires children to get permission from their parents before making a digital purchase.
Enforcement of the EU’s rules will fall on the shoulders of local authorities who may take legal action of impose fines upon app vendors who do not comply with the Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) Network position on in-app purchases.
Apple has come under fire for in-app purchase before from the Federal Trade Commission, which fined the company $32.5m in January over the same issue.