Google Play Store under fire for freemium app model, could face €5 million in fines in Italy

May 17, 2014
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Google Play Store freemium investigation law court italy

The Antitrust and Competition Authority in Italy has launched an investigation into the increasingly common “freemium” app model, stating that customers could be misled by the label “free,” only to be charged unknown amounts for items within the app.

The freemium app model has become very common for many developers across multiple app markets, including the Google Play Store, Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s app store. It is a very simple model, offer your app for free, then allow the user to purchase from within the app additional features or in-app items, such as an in-game currency or additional levels, music, books, comics and more.

9 to 5 Google is reporting that the antitrust committee will look to determine if users who download these apps for free believe that they are completely free, not knowing when downloading the app how much it will actually cost. A number of app stores are on the hook here, but it is reported that Google could be fined as much as €5 million if found to have misled customers.

Google recently made adjustments to their Play Store developers policies. The changes include a new prominent statement if an app offers in-app purchases and requires developers to outline if in-app purchases are available to users. Following these guidelines, as an example, Disney has gone ahead and added info to the description of the game Frozen Free Fall that addresses the above concerns.

Frozen Free Fall freemium Play Store Header

Before you download this experience, please consider that this app contains social media links to connect with others, in-app purchases that cost real money, push notifications to let you know when we have exciting updates like new content, as well as advertising for The Walt Disney Family of Companies and some third parties. In App Purchases from $0.99-2.99

Should Google’s newest implementations be found lacking, many app developers could be affected. I performed a quick count this evening and found that 147 of the 150 top grossing apps in the Google Play Store utilize the freemium model. It is unknown at this time if the Italian committee will target the app markets based solely on freemium apps, or if paid apps that also offer in-app payments will be under the microscope as well. Either way, the Italian regulator plans to conclude their investigation by the end of the year.

Do you find the freemium app model confusing in any way – specifically, have you ever been confused by a ‘free’ app into making a not-so-free in-app purchase? That was an unfair and leading question, so I’ll ask instead, do you approve of the freemium app model, or would you prefer to just pay up front for an app to gain access to all of its items and functionality?

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