'Free' apps may be violating EU consumer protection laws

EU authorities are expressing concern about 'in-app' purchases

Europe's app providers were warned by authorities Thursday that many of them are violating consumer protection laws.

Following complaints in Denmark, France, the U.K., Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Lithuania, E.U. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and national enforcement authorities from across Europe are meeting Thursday and Friday with industry representatives, including Apple and Google, to outline the rules they must follow.

The biggest problem is the issue of so-called "in-app" purchases, by which consumers access special content or features for a fee, on products labeled as "free." Currently more than 50 percent of the E.U. online games' market consists of games advertised as free, despite often incorporating costly, in-app purchases. Misleading consumers in this way could be in breach of E.U. law, the Commission said.

App providers will also be warned not to exhort children to buy items in a game and to avoid marketing free to download games that are not free to play.

However representatives defended the so-called "freemium" model. "Consumers are the ultimate beneficiaries of the freemium model because it allows them to try before they buy.  It gives consumers the power to decide how much, or how little, they want to spend," said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT).

Consumers are often not fully aware that they are spending money because their credit cards get charged by default. According to E.U. law, app providers must get explicit consent for such charges. Industry will be asked to commit to providing solutions within a clear timeframe to ensure proper consumer protection.

"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of E.U. rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organizations," Reding said.

Zuck said that on-device solutions already exist. "On iOS devices, for example, App Store users are alerted to in-app purchasing features before they download an app. The device owner can also completely disable in-app purchases. All users are required to enter a password before making purchases, which is entirely within a parent's control" he said.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobile applicationsregulationmobilelegislationgovernmentAssociation for Competitive Technology

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?