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Apple and Google no longer promote games as ‘free’

The risk of children making unwanted purchases when playing games has been reduced, thanks to adjustments made to the app stores of Apple (App Store) and Google (Google Play). This has been the result of actions taken by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) together with other European regulators and the European Commission. First of all, games that children buy as apps in app stores will no longer be promoted by Apple and Google as ‘free’ games. Children and their parents will now be able to see whether in-app purchases such as extra lives, weapons, or credits are available in apps before buying them. In this way, they will be able to know if additional costs can be expected. In addition, users are now explicitly asked to choose their payment settings. Users will be asked if they wish to enter their password for each purchase or once every 15 minutes. The latter used to be the default setting, which created a risk for unwanted purchases.

Consumers continue to be exhorted by online games to make in-app purchases. Children in particular are sensitive to such direct exhortations. However, parents are now able to choose their payment settings in advance in such a way that they can block all in-app purchases or that each purchase requires entering their password. This reduces the risk of unwanted purchases or surprises when receiving one’s credit card statement.

These adjustments have been revealed by a recent evaluation of the agreement that the European regulators reached with Apple and Google in late-2014. The Dutch, Norwegian and Danish regulators checked whether Apple and Google have kept to the agreement. And, for the most part, they have. However, it turns out that it is still difficult to contact the app developer, Google or Apple if you have questions or wish to report any problems with the game in question. It must be made easier for consumers to find their contact details. This issue will be raised with these parties at a European level.

Paying with money and personal data

Consumers pay little or nothing at all for apps, but they often do not realize that their data can also act as a currency. Businesses can use their data for commercial purposes. That is why ACM last week launched an awareness campaign, called ‘Each app has its price’ (in Dutch: ‘Elke app heeft een prijs’) through its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer. The fact that Apple and Google no longer promote apps as ‘free’ apps perfectly fits this campaign’s message.

On ConsuWijzer.nl, consumers are able to find tips on how to limit the data shared by apps, and how to change their payment settings. ACM is warning parents that they need to understand that, the moment they give their children their passwords, they lose control over their expenditures. This is also the case if they have chosen to allow payments without having to re-enter a password for a limited amount of time. Consumers are also able to file complaints about unfair commercial practices in online games with ConsuWijzer.nl.