Have your kids racked in-game purchases without your permission? A new lawsuit against Google, which follows a successful one against Apple, aims to recover some of that money.

BB10 Google Play
photo: CrackBerry

A New York woman whose child spent $65.95 on digital “Crystals” has filed a lawsuit on behalf of other parents across the U.S., claiming the Google Play store is full of games and apps that lure children into spending money.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in San Francisco, claims the woman’s five-year old son spent the money while playing “Marvel Run Jump Smash!” on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and accuses Google of unjust enrichment and violating consumer protection laws.

The case mirrors a similar case brought against Apple over so-called “bait apps” that are typically free to obtain but encourage users to spend money within the game. Apple paid $5 million to settle the case in 2013 and also paid a related $32.5 million fine early this year.

In the case of Google, users typically enter a password to make a purchase, but this is not the case during a 30 minute “window” following an initial purchase. During the window period, the game maker can offer users — including children — an opportunity to buy things without re-entering the password, such as these digital treats in the “Pet Hotel” game cited in the lawsuit:

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 6.38.08 PM

As the screenshot above shows, such games can offer bulk purchases, such as 1,500 “treats” for $99.99. As a result, it is easy for kids to rack up hundreds of dollars on their parents’ credit card. The issue was the subject of a Daily Show feature, and also befell my colleague Kevin Tofel — whose daughter spent $375 on digital fish (money he will likely recoup as a result of the legal action).

Apple long ago closed its 15-minute window during which users could make purchases without entering a password. In the lawsuit against Google, however, the mother claims that the company’s 30-minute purchase window is still open. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: Google has reportedly pushed out an Android update that prompts users for a password at every purchase.

You can read the lawsuit, which was spotted by Law360, for yourself here:

Google App Class Action

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. BenjaminGilead Monday, March 10, 2014

    As much as I like Google I want this lawsuit to push through. Google should know that if it involves money user should always be asked for password first.

    1. The parent explicitly disabled the requirement to ask for a password for every purchase and then was mad when Google didn’t ask for a password.

      “At the moment the 30-minute window can be avoided by going into the Settings menu of the Google Play Store and checking the option to “use password to restrict purchases.” That will force the user to input their password, even for in-app purchases on a newly-downloaded game. In fact, this is the default behavior for Google Play – Imber-Gluck must have disabled it herself through the menu or one of the in-app purchase popup dialogs in order to open up the 30-minute window. “

      1. Jeff John Roberts Ryan Tuesday, March 11, 2014

        Thanks for your comment, Ryan, but how do you know this is the case? The complaint doesn’t say she did anything to “open” the window. And Google Play’s own support page suggests the window is open by default:

        1. Isn’t that kind of the point with being a journalist, i.e. research?

          Take an Android phone, create a Google account, add a payment method, observe the result?

          That said, the way it’s set up is not very transparent, so a previous device where it was disabled may migrate to a new device.

        2. You should, perhaps, re-read the page you linked. It says (and, as an Android user, I can happily confirm):

          -Password protection is default on most devices (layman’s speak for Android 2.x+)
          -If password protection is turned on, the Play Store requires a password to be entered before executing a monetary transaction. (Free apps are downloaded without such a transaction, for the record)
          -Once that password has been entered, it need not be entered again for the following 30 minutes.

          So in order for her child to have made the purchases, the mother must have willingly entered the password, then failed to monitor her child’s subsequent purchases… Or the child must have entered the password, in which case, the mother should choose a better password.

          I have tested multiple times since I first heard about the Apple case all those months ago. Google’s system is not at fault here.

          1. And now that you’ve gone to the trouble of writing all that, I assume you realize that what the article and the mother claims is in fact true, yes? For 30 minutes after purchasing a game (and entering a password for that purchase), any user of the phone can make further purchases without entering the password again.

  2. BenjaminGilead Monday, March 10, 2014

    I’m all rooting for this lawsuit, as much as I like Google, they should know that if it involves money user should be asked for password first, always.

    1. Personally I’d find it really annoying if I had to enter my password every time I made a purchase.

      1. But you would have to when opening up your bank account and you would have to enter a “password” in the form of a PIN when purchasing using your credit card (up to a limit of $30 I believe). So why shouldn’t you enter a password when purchasing an app?
        Google or any other merchant agent must give the consumer the dreaded “Are You Sure Y/N” prompt or password field every time. It’s as simple as that.

      2. To be honest I prefer the annoyance of entering a password than to trust someone getting a-hold of my phone and starts to play games and then starts buying game credits on my behalf. Especially if it comes to children, since they do not always know the difference between right and wrong no matter how much you teach, If you are young, you don’t know the worth of money until it goes through your bank, so unfortunately they will click on the buy button without knowing the consequences to what they just did.

    2. The default setting does ask the user to enter their password!!!!! The setting must have been disabled. Parents need to become informed and take responsibility not put the blame on Google. Learn to use the device properly first and don’t blame others for your, or your child’s actions!!!

  3. Mabey you shouldn’t let your 5 year old get an electronic and let him play outside.

    1. YOU ARE 100% RIGHT! Who cares if it has a password or not. DON’T LET YOUR KIDS PLAY WITH YOUR PHONE. BE A PARENT AND PLAY WITH THEM!

  4. Yeah, give the kid a Mattel Speak ‘n’ Spell.

  5. So the mother is trying to take the blame off of herself and place it on Google. If my daughter bought a bunch of crap while playing a game on my phone or tablet, it’s not Google to blame, it’s me. This ranks right up there with the morons who rack up thousands of dollars in charges by tethering their phone to their PC and streaming/downloading movies/movies/tv shows. Time for this lady put her big girl panties on, and take responsibility for her actions. Or lack of, in this case.

    1. It’s the American way. Blame somebody else for your own mistakes. Entitlement permeates our culture.

      1. Entitlement is your culture

        1. Generation ME….What is in it for ME…..It is all about ME….I am growing tired of reading about DUMB parents….I live in AZ and read about little children drowning in their own pool EVERY DAY because parents are to busy being self important ME to watch their own kids…Who do you sue then when your child is dead because YOUR OWN STUPIDITY…”Johnny go play in the middle of Interstate 40 I’m busy texting my girlfriend” Give ME MONEY for being STUPID ME!!!

    2. Not really, mothers do not all know about Google’s settings and not all mothers are techy enough to figure all that. Google should know better.

      1. Really??????????????? You are kidding me right??? NO …..It is the parent being man or woman just being LAZY….If a New TV had all sorts of passwords and setting just to turn it on I bet you they would take the time to figure it out!!!!…Do you leave your cable box wide open to the whole family being able to order PORN PAY PER VIEW??? How about if they removed all PIN #s from debit cards so anyone could empty your bank account….You would be screaming bloody murder that the bank is being irresponsible not having security measures and letting anyone steal your money….Same thing…What is even More Insulting is that you have called a Whole Generation of Women DUMB & IGNORANT!!!…That is YOU not me doing it….because I know you will say that was not my intention….but that is what YOU are really saying when you state that not all Women are tech savvy

    3. But the mother is NOT aware that buying apps without password is even possible. It is clearly a deceptive marketing ploy.

      1. Wait…this is clearly a parent being deceptively ignorant….”Here Johnny why don’t you play with my wallet full of CASH in the Candy Store while I talk on the phone to my friend about nonsense so I don’t have to be a RESPONSIBLE Parent for 2 minutes”…Stupid!!!

  6. Imagine if some company built a special kid only type section that permitted the child to play apps/games chosen by the parent but the ability to purchase anything was disabled. You could hand the phone to your child and have them simply swipe left to bring up “their” apps and games. They wouldn’t need your password, nor would they have access to any of your stuff. Wouldn’t that be nice? Oh wait … Windows Phone

  7. Magdiel Lorenzo Wednesday, March 12, 2014

    Isn’t there supposed to be a “kids mode” to prevent this exact sort of thing?

  8. Yes, sue Google. It is Google’s fault the parent allowed the child to use a smart phone unattended.

  9. The parent should get their big boy pants on.

  10. It time for the parent to get their big boy pants on!

Comments have been disabled for this post