The European Union is grilling Apple and Google about free-to-play apps


Like it or not, apps and games that cost nothing but that let users spend money inside them have become the norm on mobile app stores. And now the The European Commission is meeting with Apple, Google, and consumer protection groups to discuss reforms to so-called freemium games and apps. It's meeting with the companies today and tomorrow to ask for clearer language about the actual costs involved, as well as to create rules that prohibit any "direct" extortions that ask children to request money from adults. The commission is also asking for tighter controls on how in-app payments are made, as well as for apps to include a direct email address to the developer.

"For the sector to deliver on its potential consumers must have confidence in new products," EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. "Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection."

"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model"

The commission estimates Europe's apps business to be worth €63 billion ($86.46 billion) in the next five years. It also cited data from Bitkom saying in-app purchases within Germany alone doubled between 2012 and 2013, to hit €240 million ($328.34 million), and that more than 1 million of those customers were between the ages of 10 to 19.

These issues have already been brought up in the US and have led to changes. An earlier policy on Apple's App Store allowed purchases to be made without an iTunes password within a brief window, something that was later rectified. Nonetheless, the feature attracted a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission and an eventual settlement involving $32.5 million in consumer refunds last month. After settling a separate lawsuit last year, the company also added notices about in-app purchases right on app listings. Google continues to offer a window where passwords are not required, though last month said it was working on extra controls over Google Play purchases.

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