European Commission is going to meet with consumer protection authorities in the UK, Belgium, France, Italy and members of the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network responsible for enforcing consumer rights across the EU to investigate concerns raised by customers of free-to-pay games.
The Commissions notes in a press release that more than 50 percent of the games in the EU’s online marketplace are advertised as ‘free’; however, they often include costly in-app purchases.
“Often consumers are not fully aware that they are spending money because their credit cards get charged by default”, notes the European Commission. “Children are particularly vulnerable to marketing of “free to download” games which are not “free to play”.
The Commission met with the consumer protection authorities yesterday and is meeting today as well to discuss four concerns raised by consumers about free-to-play games as highlighted below:
- Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
- Games should not contain direct exhortations 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 and purchases 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.
“Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection”, said Vice-President Viviane Reding and the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations.”
Apple settled with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US by agreeing to dole out a whopping $32.5 million covering 37,000 claims from parents complaining about huge bills because of in-app purchases.
Back in September last year Office of Fair Trading, UK warned games industry over the aggressive in-app strategies employed by developers after concluding a five month investigation of about 38 games allegedly in direct violation of consumer protection laws.
In late January this year, OFT issued a warning to developers and gave them two months to get their in-app purchase tactics in order, while also publishing its final principles for online and in-app games.
Considering this, one of the expected outcomes of the meetings held by the European Commission is publication of best practices based on a common understanding with member nations.
There is no indication that the Commission is going to carry out further investigation of app vendors including Apple, Microsoft, Google and others; however, such a possibility cannot be ruled out.