European Commission chides Apple for not improving game in-app purchase policies

Posted:
in iPhone edited July 2014
The legislative arm of the European Union has set its sights on Apple, accusing the iPhone maker of not doing enough to protect and inform consumers regarding in-app purchases, particularly in "free-to-play" mobile games.


Apple's recently added in-app purchase labels on iOS (left) and iTunes on Mac.


The European Commission put out a press release on Friday touting that action by it and member states has led to better protection for consumers in online games. Many popular titles on the iOS App Store are free to download, but encourage -- and in some cases require -- users to pay money to unlock new parts of the game.

Update: Apple has responded to the EC press release with a statement that it has been "leading the industry in parental controls that are incredibly easy to use" and "help ensure a great experience for parents and children," and that its efforts "go far beyond the features of others in the industry." The statement also highlighted Apple's upcoming plans for iOS 8.

While the European Commission said that Google has made a number of changes, it hopes for more from Apple. Particularly, the commission noted that Apple has not addressed concerns over payment authorization tied to iTunes accounts.

The commission also criticized Apple for not giving a firm commitment or timing on other possible future changes. In particular, the commission would like for Apple to not use the word "free" at all when listing games that include in-app purchases -- a policy that Google plans to comply with by the end of September.

The European Commission believes that games advertised as "free" are misleading consumers about the true costs involved in playing the title. In December of 2013, it asked Apple, Google, and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe to make sure that games do not directly ask children to buy items in a game, or persuade an adult to buy items for them.



The policies also suggest that consumers be adequately informed about payment arrangement for purchases, and that such purchases should not be debited through default settings without the consumer's explicit consent. The commission also wants companies to provide an email address in case a user wishes to contact them with questions or complaints.

While the commission doesn't believe Apple has done enough, Friday's press release does tout better protection for consumers in online games since it made its recommendations in late 2013.

This is significant for consumers," said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica. "In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organize the enforcement of consumer rights in the Union."

Governments around the world have taken issue with in-app purchases in free games, responding to complaints from constituents who have seen their children rack of massive bills while playing iPhone or iPad games. Apple has taken steps to curb the issue, including a new in-app purchase warning that was added to iOS App Store and iTunes lists in April of this year.

While Apple still lists titles as available for "free," the company now notes that the application includes "in-app purchases" directly from the "Top Charts" view on iOS devices.

In February 2013, Apple settled a lawsuit leveled by a group of parents whose children accrued hundreds of dollars in bills through in-app purchases. The company paid out $5 iTunes gift card or cash equivalents for some plaintiffs, while those with larger tabs over $30 received full refunds.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,192member

    Bloody communists 

  • Reply 2 of 29
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Screw the EU. Go to the App Store and it's easy to see which apps offer in-app purchases. Also not all IAP apps are worthless without additions purchases so this idea that people are being misled is BS. I guess no one at the EU followed the WWDC keynote where Apple detailed additional parental controls coming in iOS 8.

    I'm so sick of manufactured outrage and using Apple because people know Apple = media attention and page views. :rolleyes:
  • Reply 3 of 29
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 756member
    ...it asked Apple, Google, and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe to make sure that games do not directly ask children to buy items in a game, or persuade an adult to buy items for them.

    Best stop all advertising of products for kids on TV or anywhere else then, since that's persuading children/adults to buy. While we're at it, better put sweets and toys into plain packaging too and hide it behind curtains in shops. Maybe toy shops should be banned altogether.

    Geez the EU really doesn't know when to keep their heads down, since they're deeply unpopular right now.
  • Reply 4 of 29
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Elijahg View Post



    Geez the EU really doesn't know when to keep their heads down, since they're deeply unpopular right now.

     

    Don't blame the EU. The British ASA has led the charge on this one. 

  • Reply 5 of 29
    leonardleonard Posts: 528member
    I was going to say if the EU doesn't like the word FREE, then they should suggest a word. But frankly, I don't see changing the word FREE to something else, would change kids habits. What I think would change things, is if a parent is going to give this type of technology to a kid, they should either: 1) educate the kid on the value of money (not likely an option for really young kids) or 2) restrict the device, using the options Apple gives them.

    I really think Apple has made an attempt here to try and help parents.
  • Reply 6 of 29
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Apple provided the response below to Engadget.

    http://www.engadget.com/2014/07/18/google-wont-call-games-with-in-app-purchases-free-anymore/?ncid=rss_truncated

    [QUOTE]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.
    [/QUOTE]
  • Reply 7 of 29
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,202moderator
    rogifan wrote: »
    Screw the EU.

    The FTC is coming down hard on in-app purchases too.

    I think there should be tighter controls over in-app purchasing. Some developers are clearly playing the system:

    http://www.todaysiphone.com/2014/03/worst-app-purchase-culprits-app-store/

    Having items in-game that cost $600 is ridiculous. In-app purchases are enabled by default, they should be disabled by default so an adult has to enable them. Kids can easily be installing free apps and then developers hide away expensive real purchases inside the games.

    I doubt it's something any app store wants to clamp down on because over 90% of all their revenue comes from in-app purchases but they need to do more about the scam apps.

    If you went into a store to buy an iPad and came home with a box of clay:

    http://www.dailytech.com/Scam+Artists+Replace+iPad+2s+with+Blocks+of+Clay+in+Canada+Return+Them+for+Full+Refunds/article23809.htm

    you'd be happy to have some consumer protection laws.

    As mentioned above, iOS 8 will introduce a new Ask to Buy feature:

    http://www.apple.com/uk/ios/ios8/family-sharing/

    This will send a notification to a parent if a child wants to buy something. That should help eliminate the problem of children being overcharged as long as it's setup properly.
  • Reply 8 of 29
    leonard wrote: »
    I was going to say if the EU doesn't like the word FREE, then they should suggest a word. But frankly, I don't see changing the word FREE to something else, would change kids habits. What I think would change things, is if a parent is going to give this type of technology to a kid, they should either: 1) educate the kid on the value of money (not likely an option for really young kids) or 2) restrict the device, using the options Apple gives them.

    I really think Apple has made an attempt here to try and help parents.

    In most of Europe I've found the English word "free" to be used by far most often to mean "available" as in parking or hotel rooms available rather than "without cost." I've very rarely seen this meaning in use in America. I think a lack of clear comprehension on what free does and doesn't mean contributes to this problem.

    Most of the games I currently play are freemium titles that are actually playable without financial investment. I do fairly well in Hearthstone without having spent a penny and I'm glad that's an option. I probably wouldn't have started playing it if there'd been a $10+ price tag.
  • Reply 9 of 29
    dinoonedinoone Posts: 55member
    Still it seems the EU Commission allows the powerful Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to use in marketing materials the word "unlimited" when indicating Internet connectivity services, which usually have a monthly cap of 2-3 Giga. So they are actually "limited".
  • Reply 10 of 29
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,347member

    I have to agree with this. I hate IAP games. The App store should have 3 columns, Paid, Free, IAP.

    Every single IAP should require the password to be entered, not do it once and you are covered for 15 minutes.

  • Reply 11 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    I guess no one at the EU followed the WWDC keynote where Apple detailed additional parental controls coming in iOS 8.

     

    Um, do you really expect that consumers, parents, and EU commissioners should be paying attention to isolated speeches being given at highly-focused trade conferences, in other countries, intended for developers of software, for one brand of products?  And specific comments about features of a future product? Get real. 

  • Reply 12 of 29
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Um, do you really expect that consumers, parents, and EU commissioners should be paying attention to isolated speeches being given at highly-focused trade conferences, in other countries, intended for developers of software, for one brand of products?  And specific comments about features of a future product? Get real. 
    Yes I expect whatever EU commission is responsible for this to know about what Apple's doing before they openly criticize. When I said EU I was referring to government not individual consumers. Otherwise they should have given Apple specific requirements and deadline for when they needed to be implemented by.
  • Reply 13 of 29
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    evilution wrote: »
    I have to agree with this. I hate IAP games. The App store should have 3 columns, Paid, Free, IAP.
    Every single IAP should require the password to be entered, not do it once and you are covered for 15 minutes.

    Here's what's coming in iOS 8.

    family_sharing_permission.jpg?itok=AZ0G0c1B

    I think any app that requires IAP in order to work (like MS Office) should be labeled as Paid. There are IAP apps though that function perfectly fine without purchasing anything. I suppose Apple could require them to have two apps - one Free and one Paid. But I would rather just one app and allow me to upgrade inside the app if I want.
  • Reply 14 of 29
    I guess the Family Plan (or whatever it is called) in iOS 8 is a sign that Apple is doing nothing?

    I can clearly see what apps have IAP before I buy. I don't need the government to force Apple to do anything more. At what point do we need to accept responsibility for our own stupidity?

    Parents: if you give your kids your iTunes password, you deserve everything that happens to you. And that's the nicest way I can put it.
  • Reply 15 of 29
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,738member

    What would they be labelled as other than "free"?  Bearing in mind that plenty of legitimate and worthy apps offer a free app with limited features and a paid upgrade to a full, feature-rich version.

     

    I can't think of a word that fits.

  • Reply 16 of 29
    cyniccynic Posts: 124member

    I believe Apple is doing more than enough regarding this matter. We do now have very visible badges if an app offers in app purchases and with iOS 8 and family sharing we even get the fantastic function of making our kids ask for permission if they want to buy something. Boom, no more accidental buying. So I really think this should be more than enough to "protect consumers".

     

    At the same time I am seeing this discussion as damaging to in app purchases in general. Sure, there are some obscene titles in the App Store offering purchases which are meant for nothing else than ripping people off. Those really need to stop. However this whole discussion makes people think that in app purchases are something bad in general, and they aren't. Very often those are legitimate add-ons or otherwise extensions to apps. It would be quite sad seeing people avoid all apps with this in app purchase badge in the future.

     

    Lastly, I think the EU should rather spend its resources on running campaigns to educate their citizens about the benefits of reading in general and reading before acting upon something. At the same time, run some campaigns on the fact that digitally distributed content such as software, games, books, music, films do actually have a value and are made by people who need to feed their families. Stop expecting free. Stop being stupid. If something that's any more than an amateur project is free, there's likely a catch to it. Teach people that, because this whole "I want everything for free" attitude doesn't really lead anywhere great.

    Let's be serious here, those measures are not meant to protect any literal or halfway intelligent person. We all know what in app purchases mean. Even my grandma knows what it means. This is total horseshit trying to protect stupid people that actually fall for the "free". It's like when we used to make fun of Americans, who apparently needed to be protected from the "hot" coffee they just ordered. (sorry for that, but true) ;-)

  • Reply 17 of 29
    stompystompy Posts: 325member
    Quote:
    The European Commission believes that games advertised as "free" are misleading consumers about the true costs involved in playing the title.... 

    Apple should display the min, average, and maximum cost of every app that has in-app purchases when the user presses download. Also, if the user is downloading a game, Apple should display a second table showing the per hour opportunity costs of playing the game.

     

    /s

  • Reply 18 of 29
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,740member
    Whatever happened to the company that was asserting their apparent patent rights by suing one-by-one app devs who had in-app purchasing enabled? Did Apple step up or are small companies still being sued?
  • Reply 19 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post





    Yes I expect whatever EU commission is responsible for this to know about what Apple's doing before they openly criticize. When I said EU I was referring to government not individual consumers. Otherwise they should have given Apple specific requirements and deadline for when they needed to be implemented by.

     

    It seems that EU were simply not satisfied with Apple's promise of improvements forthcoming in iOS 8, which of course, Apple will not give a firm release date for.  Also, "In particular, the commission would like for Apple to not use the word "free" at all when listing games that include in-app purchases -- a policy that Google plans to comply with by the end of September" seems to me to be a VERY reasonable approach.  I myself have become tired of downloading supposedly free apps, only to discover that they are merely free tours that expire and stop working after a week, or free advertisements of a full-featured app that costs money.  Misleading and wasting my time.  Almost as bad as the cable companies that won't tell you ahead of time in the ads or on their website what the price per month will be AFTER the "introductory rate" expires.  

  • Reply 20 of 29
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot View Post

    It seems that EU were simply not satisfied with Apples promise of improvements forthcoming in iOS 8


     

    By the time the psychopaths try to take this to court, iOS 8 will be out and they’ll have no case whatsoever.

     

    Then again, they invent whatever laws they want to keep companies from being companies, so who knows.

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