Following a large number of complaints in EU countries concerning in-app purchases in online games and in particular inadvertent purchases by children, national authorities joined forces with the European Commission to find solutions.
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(1) 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.
Member States enforcers and the European Commission have also invited the associations of online game developers and platforms to reflect on concrete measures that they could take to address the issues raised in the common position, including the possibility for guidelines or standards incorporating the CPC position.
Enforcement, including possible legal action, is in the hands of the national authorities which will now consider how to address outstanding legal issues.
The European Commission and Member States will continue to monitor the issue and in particular the extent to which the engagements made have addressed in practice the concerns raised in the CPC position.