22 September 2014 5 min read

It’s a dreaded situation for many parents. Whilst letting your kids play ‘free’ games on the iPhone and iPad (or other devices that will inevitably end up covered in greasy finger marks and snot) will keep them busy and quiet, any sense of calm rapidly vanishes when you’re hit with a large bill from the App Store.

Many apps are free but some, especially games, are designed to tempt the users to pay for enhancements that usually allow for a better score, or quicker progression. Although these types of apps create an important revenue stream in this rapidly expanding market, they have recently raised issues of consumer protection. As a result, the European Commission is seeking a change by pushing Apple and Google, the biggest vendors of these apps, to make the true cost of these games clear from the outset so that consumers are not misled. 

Apple taking its time

It would, however, appear that such desired changes are not happening quickly enough, as the European Commission publicly scolded Apple, stating “Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made…to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation.” 

Earlier, Apple had proposed to address these concerns, yet it would seem they have made no firm plans for future changes to ensure its practices are in line with the common position. And, if this warning was not enough, in a recent statement the European Commission reminded national authorities that they have the ability to take legal action against companies, such as Apple, that are not complying with the European guidelines on free apps and consumer protection that were published in December 2013.

Give us a break

Apple may feel that this public telling off by the European Commission is a little unfair as they, in fact, do more to protect parents than others in the industry. An Apple spokesperson said that in addition to existing protection controls, the new features of the iOS 8 such as ‘Ask To Buy’ will give parents even more control over what children are able to buy in their App Store, whilst Google have stated (somewhat evasively) that they have decided on a ‘number of changes’ to come into force by September. 

Sorry Mum and Dad

These issues certainly aren’t a surprise to Apple, who last year agreed to refund parents $32.5m as part of an agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission. This agreement refunded long-standing complaints over in-app purchases that were made by children without their parents consent, including one parent whose daughter spent an eye-watering $2600 on just one app. Ouch.

According to an internal email obtained by website 9to5Mac, the Chief Executive, Tim Cook, preferred to settle in this manner rather than a lengthy legal battle, as this ruling by the FTC was in line with the company’s intentions. Such intentions were seemingly good, as Apple had created a process to contact the 28 million App Store customers who made an in-app purchase in a game designed for children, and refund those that had complained. 

Despite the rapid growth of E-Commerce that is changing the retail landscape, consumer protection remains of fundamental importance. From ensuring that the correct information about your business is displayed in the right places on your website, to making it clear to your customers what conditions apply to their purchase and how their personal information is kept secure, there’s lots to think about. 

Our team can advise your business on all the legal aspects of running a business online. From drafting your terms and conditions of sale, reviewing website design and hosting agreements to preparing your privacy & cookie policy – We can help you provide your customers with peace of mind while keeping your business on the right side of the law. Why not contact us today and book your free consultation to discuss your legal requirements in further detail; we’ll be delighted to talk to you.

The contents of this article are intended solely for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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Ryan Lisk

Ryan has helped a vast number of businesses protect and control their intellectual property as well as drafting and advising on consumer and commercial contracts.

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