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Summary:

Freemium mobile software with in-app purchases might be racking up money for developers but not everyone is happy. Several EU member countries feel the approach is misleading, causing the European Commission to call a meeting of the minds.

in-app-purchases

After four individual member countries raised concerns, the European Commission has decided to tackle consumer issues around freemium apps with in-app purchases. The EU has invited Apple, Google and others in the tech industry for a discussion on the subject as the free apps can appear to have hidden costs, Reuters reported on Thursday.

in-app-purchase

The Commission, which is the European Union’s executive body, is concerned because games labeled “free to download” often charge users to actually play. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding noted a lack of honesty in this freemium approach, saying, “Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection.”

While the EU is collectively tacking this problem now for the interests of all its member countries, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Here in the U.S., for example, we went through a similar exercise about three years ago, just as the in-app purchase model began to gain acceptance.

In 2010, my stepdaughter racked up nearly $400 in such in-app purchases without my knowledge, and at the time, she didn’t think anything of exchanging real currency from our bank account for virtual gold coins. Since that time, the FTC and Apple have come to a $32.5 million settlement on such situations and Apple added more controls around in-app purchases. The company also reimbursed one U.K. parent $6,700 for in-app fees racked up by his daughter on games, says Reuters.

The EU Commission talks will be held with consumer protection groups from Denmark, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania and Luxembourg, along with Apple, Google and others in the tech industry. Some proposals that will reportedly be discussed include the removal of messages that encourage users to “Buy now!” or “Upgrade now!” although I’m not putting my money on that being a deterrent in the freemium model.

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  1. Some of the freemium games I’ve seen are sleazier than any cartoon character used to advertise cigarettes, beer, or sugar cereal to kids. Even worse are the paid apps that do the same thing.

    It is not enough to shrug about it and take precautions. These are “great for kids” devices and apps that bombard (especially if you don’t know how to turn off their push notifications) children with calls to action like “Shiny the Firefly needs your help!” Translation: get mommy’s password and send us that funny green paper with pictures of presidents on them.

    And of course the app stores are taking at least 25 cents on every dollar of that, and mom’s first hint that anything is amiss comes a day or two later when iTunes gets around to emailing the receipt. No refunds!

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