Apple’s head lawyer quietly urged the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year to look into Google’s in-app purchase policies — and was even helpful enough to send along a Consumer Affairs report that said Google Play let children “spend like a drunken sailor” on apps once a parent had entered a password.
The tale of corporate tattling was uncovered by Politico, which used a Freedom of Information request to obtain an email from Apple’s general counsel to FTC head Edith Ramirez and Commissioner Julie Brill. The email reportedly reads “I thought this article might be of some interest, particularly if you have not already seen it.”
The issue, which has been a problem for all big app stores, turns in part on so-called “bait apps,” which are available for free but then encourage kids to make in-app purchases while playing a game. Kids can do so even if they don’t know the purchase password, because app stores can allow short 15 or 30 minutes “windows” during which users can shop if someone has already entered the password.
The problem of bait apps drew national attention when after it was featured on the Daily Show in 2012, and has been a headache for parents everywhere, including Gigaom’s Kevin Tofel, whose kids spent $375 to keep virtual fish alive.
In the case of Apple, its decision to rat out Google came shortly after the company agreed to pay $32.5 million to settle FTC accusations over kids running up charges in the iTunes store.
Apple is now in the clear after settling with the FTC, and after forking over more money to issue refunds in a related class-action lawsuit the year before. The FTC, meanwhile, has since moved on to target Amazon over its own app practices, though the retail giant declared last week that it did nothing wrong and will fight the case in court.
As for Google, it’s unclear if the FTC is taking action over kids’ in-app purchases. While the two sides are likely in talks, consumers will not know for sure unless the FTC files a complaint or announces a settlement, since the agency doesn’t discuss ongoing investigations.
Google is also facing a class action case over its app policy, led by a mother who says her 5-year-old spent $65 while playing “Marvel Run Jump Smash!” on a Samsung Galaxy tablet. In a recent court filing, Google asked the court to dismiss the case on technical grounds.