Apps are a tricky beast: unlike the video game industry, which is by-and-large comprised of consumers who actively seek to play games, and have purchased hardware with the explicit purpose of doing just that, the mobile industry doesn’t work quite that way. Many “customers” are in fact, casual users who are randomly looking around a curated digital storefront and find something that may be worth a minute or two of their time. For this reason, the pay-to-play concept doesn’t work nearly as well as it does with gamers. In-part because of this, the in-app purchase became a major function: charge little-to-nothing for the software, then ask the user to pay in order to unlock the whole game, remove advertisements, or even increase stats.
Unfortunately, not everyone is a responsible adult, namely because they’re not adults. Literally. As Apple learned some years ago, angry parents and the FTC are no fan of paid purchases which were unauthorized by the parent or guardian. Commentary about responsible monitoring of a minor while using a device aside, what’s done is done, and in the case of in-app purchases, can’t be undone. Except when the courts get involved.
As a result of a September settlement with the FTC, Google is liable for $19 million in unauthorized in-app purchases. The time period in question is from March 1, 2011 to November 18, 2014. Google has begun to contact affected consumers with the following e-mail:
While this will definitely be a small blot on Google’s Q4 earnings, it’s nice to see that the affected customers can finally get some relief. The FTC indicates that Google will alter its billing practices thus hopefully preventing this type of situation from occurring in the future. Still, the best way to avoid this kind of problem (and many other) is to make sure any child who is using a tablet or smartphone has their account locked-down.