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Google Settles In-App Purchase Complaints

4 Sep, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

Google Sept. 4 agreed to refund consumers at least $19 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint regarding how parents were improperly billed for in-app purchases by their kids.

In March, Google had agreed to give users the option to have a password required for every app or in-app purchase, aiming to avoid the $32.5 million in refunds Apple paid out in January to settle a similar complaint. The FTC also ordered Google to change its mobile billing practices, to require consent before any in-app purchase.

“For millions of American families, smartphones and tablets have become a part of their daily lives,” said FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “As more Americans embrace mobile technology, it’s vital to remind companies that time-tested consumer protections still apply, including that consumers should not be charged for purchases they did not authorize.”

The complaint against Google alleged that, since 2011, Google had violated FTC rules prohibiting unfair commercial practices, by billing for purchases children made using apps downloaded from the Google Play store. Some parents reported hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges. When Google first introduced in-app purchases in 2011, no password was required, with kids able to buy virtual items easily. In mid-2012, Google changed its policies to require a password, though didn’t inform consumers that the password opened up a 30-minute window for purchases.

“During this time, many thousands of consumers complained to Google about children making unauthorized in-app charges,” an FTC statement reads. “Some parents noted that their children had spent hundreds of dollars in in-app charges without their consent. Others noted that children buying virtual in-game items with real money were unaware they were causing their parents to be billed.”

While Apple and Google have reached settlement agreements, Amazon is still fighting the FTC over a similar complaint, first launched in July. That complaint also seeks refunds for consumers and changes to Amazon’s in-app billing practices.

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