The US Federal Trade Commission has just announced that Google has agreed to settle the complaint brought against it by the agency regarding the unfair and unauthorized billing of mobile subscribers via the dreaded in-app purchases setup. As part of that settlement, Google will be refunding those purchases, which amounts to a minimum of $19 million.
In-app purchases or IAPs may have become part of our mobile lives, especially in games. But for governments, it is a point of contention and potential sanction. In Europe, IAPs seem to be more associated with false or deceptive marketing, especially games that advertise themselves as “free” yet would eventually require purchasing add-ons to finish or even advance in the game. In the US, the situation is a bit more dire, with parents waking up to horrifying bills because their child just happened to think that those shiny candies are free.
Google isn’t the first, nor is it the last, app vendor that has been hit by a lawsuit from FTC. Apple has similarly been targeted and, as of last July, Amazon as well. Both Apple and Google have implemented changes in their digital stores in response to those complaints. For its part, Google implemented optional timeouts for purchase authentications, including requiring the user’s password for each and every purchase. That said, those changes won’t change the fact that thousands of users lost a substantial amount of money. But this settlement will remedy that.
$19 million isn’t exactly as large as the $32 .5 million sum that the FTC ordered Apple to pay last January as part of its own settlement. That said, that $19 million is actually just the minimum requirement. Google has 12 months to comply with that mandate. If it refunds less than $19 million within that time, the rest of the amount that it has to pay will go to FTC, same with Apple’s case. Now to see whether Amazon will fare any better.