We have mentioned previously on this blog the need for better consumer protection against misleading applications that consumers use while gaming online on their mobile devices or computers (Misleading apps). While the apps market is growing, it needs to be ensured that consumers are not victims of such practices like, e.g.: when they are offered a game for 'free', but playing it actually requires purchasing various extensions; children or adults are targeted within the game for purchase purposes; consumers are often paying through default settings without realizing the full extent and conditions of the payment; no possibility to complain to the trader since there is no information given on how to contact him. (In-app purchases: Joint action by the European Commission and Member States is leading to better protection for consumers in online games)
The EU Consumer Protection Cooperation network of national enforcement authorities works closely with Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe and have asked these representatives of the market in December 2013 to develop standards that would apply to all online applications. This month a position paper has been published evaluating the solutions suggested by Google and Apple to the above-mentioned issues. ISFE has not proposed any specific measures to its members.
- Misleading advertising of games as 'free'
- Apple adds a text 'In-App Purchases' close to the download button, but the apps themselves are still advertised as free and the font of the text 'In-App Purchases' is smaller and more difficult to read than the word 'FREE'; it is not clear whether all games, which has been marked this way, have only optional in-app purchases.
- Google has removed the word 'free' where its online games contain in-app purchases possibilities and publishes a clear information about the presence of in-app purchases possibilities; it also considers as of 30 September 2014 publishing of the price range information of all the in-app purchases offered by specific games. These solutions are considered compliant by the CPC network.
- Exhortations to children
- Apple claims that it informs its developers (through standard contract terms and conditions) that they need to comply with all relevant legal requirements and, therefore, Apple feels that its the developer's responsibility if they infringe EU or national laws; while Apple suggests to help enforcement authorities with taking down any illegal apps, its solutions are not far-reaching enough considering that Apple, as a platform for these illegal apps, has an obligation to take them down.
- Google set a special email address for contact with CPC and European Commission about infringements of EU law appearing on its platforms. It also promises to draw attention of its developers worldwide to limitations of the UCPD that could apply to online games introduced on the EU market (by 31 July 2014). A review, warning and ban system has also been implemented for developers whose products are non-compliant with EU law.
- Information about and consent to purchase
- Apple has not made any clear commitments as to improving the information about payment and obtaining consent for it. CPC believes that the 15 minutes' payment window currently offered by Apple should not remain the default setting in the future. Consumers should be at least offered a choice to have to authorize each payment individually and this choice should be presented neutrally with no default having been chosen. This choice should be regularly and repeatedly presented to consumers. Additionally, consumers should give an explicit consent to each in-app purchase separately and could be given a possibility to set maximum amounts for in-app purchases made without individual payment authorization. Apple at the moment seems not to be compliant with the CRD's requirements.
- By 30 September 2014 Google intends to implement a choice of three settings for consumers: a password requirement for every purchase; a password requirement every 30 minutes; or never a password requirement (with a prominent warning displayed about possible unauthorized purchases). The setting chosen by the first purchase would apply for subsequent ones. Google could improve this information by reminding consumers at intervals about settings chosen by them and offering them a choice to change them. Moreover, it still needs to obtain explicit consent to every purchase from its consumers.
- Provision of the trader's email address
- While Apple proposes to create and display an email address that could be used by consumers to contact Apple with regards to their purchases on Apple's platforms, it has not provided any details about the implementation of this system yet.
- By 30 September 2014 Google will display geographical address of the developer next to the already given developer's online details. Additionally, Google proposes to set time limits for developer's response to consumer communication.
As we can see from the above summary, Google is more cooperative with the European Commission and the CPC Network than Apple. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that cooperation will translate into more efficient end effective enforcement.