Google facing in-app purchases lawsuit

By Rachel Hand topicIcon Mobile Marketing

Lawsuit filed by unhappy mother

Google is facing legal action in the US over children making unauthorised in-app purchases.

The lawsuit has been filed by a mother from New York, who was horrified when her five year old son spent $66 (£40) while playing a game called Marvel Run Jump Smash. Many games in the Google Play app store - including those aimed at children - are available to download for free or a minimal charge, but then incur additional charges for purchases made during play.

Google Play requires the user to enter their password to authenticate a download or purchase. However, the password then does not need to be re-entered for 30 minutes, allowing a child to make further purchases without the parent's knowledge.

The case is a class action lawsuit on behalf of other parents affected, represented by Philadelphia-based Bergers and Montague. In a press release, the law firm commented:

"Google has unfairly profited by marketing free or low-cost games to children and by permitting them to easily rack up charges for worthless in-game currency, by failing to incorporate reasonable controls such as simply requiring the entry of a password. Google is certainly aware that its primary competitor, Apple, has taken steps to end this unfair practice, and Google should do the same."

Apple's struggles

Apple has indeed been in trouble previously for in-app purchases. Bergers and Montague also represented Californian parents in 2011 which resulted in a settlement of an estimated $100m. Apple later settled with the US Federal Trade Commission and refunded $32.5m to parents in January 2014.

Apple has since agreed to seek consent from the account holder before any in-app purchases can be made, a system which will be in place before the end of the month. Google Play meanwhile has recently added information to its app store listings on whether the app offers in-app purchases. However, here in the UK, the Office of Fair Trading is placing responsibility for informing users with the app developers.

Kleon West, business development director at theEword, commented: "The number of children using mobiles and tablets for entertainment is rising fast, so it's vital that controls are in place; Google and Apple should do all they can to prevent unauthorised purchases, and inform users about the potential costs."