European Commission slams Apple for failing to protect consumers against in-app purchases [updated]

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Ever since an increasing number of App Store developers have began offering free games with in-app purchases, known as a “freemium” model, there has been an avalanche of stories involving children going on iTunes spending sprees unbeknownst to  their parents. 

After receiving numerous complaints, the European Commission and EU member states have decided to go on the aggressive against Apple and Google for failing to enact policies that take appropriate measures to protect consumers against in-app purchases and surprising credit card statements.

While Google has complied with the European Commission’s requests for the most part, agreeing to no longer label games with in-app purchases as “free” by September, Apple has been far more complacent with the demands. According to the EU’s report, the iPhone maker has largely dragged its feet in the process.

“Although, regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorization, 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.”

As noted, the European Commission will continue to engage with Apple to ensure that it is making the necessary changes to in-app purchases to fall in line with the common position.

That common position consists of the following policies that European national authorities have asked Apple and Google to abide by for mobile games:

  • 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.

Apple recently labeled all apps that have in-app purchases on the App Store, and has typically been fair in issuing refunds for accidental in-app purchases. Nevertheless, it appears it will have to go at least a few steps further to satisfy the European Commission.

Have you ever made in-app purchases by accident? What was the damage?

Update: Engadget has obtained the following statement from Apple:

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. The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable. 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.

These controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry. But we are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we’re adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store.

Our goal is to continue to provide the best experience for our customers and we will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns.