Google to Stop Listing Games with In-App Purchases as “Free”

Google agreed to not label games as free that have in-app purchases in the European Union
It began in December last year, when the European Commission issued a statement to market leaders (namely Google and Apple) which requested that they begin transparent labeling practices on games with hidden costs.

The commission finally realized that many app store games are labeled as free, despite the fact that there are costs to move up through the levels while playing, or to attain special privileges during play. Hence the declaration that this tactic is false advertising and the move to engage national authorities to assist with enforcement.

The step by the commission came after complaints soared of unintentional costs. These were incurred on account holders’ credit cards through either automatic software updates or children using the games and swiping their agreement to make purchases without realizing the consequences.

This week Google is first off the blocks to take action with a statement saying that they will comply with the request in the European marketplace from September. One of the biggest steps Google says it will take is no longer tagging games listed in its Play Store as “free” if the game is free for download, but also contains in-app purchases. This comes after news that the FTC has filed a complaint against Amazon on the same in-app issue of children making purchases without consent. There is no news as to whether Google will do the same in the US.

In addition, the company plans to implement specific game developer guidelines for Android programmers to prevent children from making in-app purchases without the parents’ permission. Default settings will also be changed to require an authorization for each in-app payment to be made. This will be welcome news for parents, but some say it will halt future growth opportunities in popular app store markets.

The European Commission is not the only voice in the mix. In January this year Apple paid a reported $32.5 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission, who had also called on Amazon to stop charging users for unauthorized purchases.

PC World reports that Senator Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, had something to say about that in a letter disputing the new policy.

“Few, if any, doubt that the app marketplace established in recent years by Amazon and its competitors has fundamentally expanded and improved the American economy. To pursue enforcement against these companies for specific policies in place at the market’s nascent stage would constitute a de facto tax on innovation that threatens future growth and opportunity.”

While the new policies have their supporters and their opponents, Google has already done more than Apple and Amazon combined by offering to make changes to its European purchasing model.

However, it can’t be denied, change is in the wind for everyone – once these regulations become widespread, app designers and distributors will be forced to find new ways to both up-sell and extend the lives of their products.

(Photo courtesy of Zach Copley)

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