On 27 and 28 February, the European Comission is meeting with national authorities and large technological companies (including Apple and Google) to discuss in-app purchases. The EC estimates that, at present, over 50% of the EU online and mobile games market consists of games advertised as “free”, although they often entail, sometimes costly, in-app purchases. Often consumers are not fully aware that they are spending money, because their credit cards get charged by default. This makes children particularly vulnerable to marketing of "free to download" games which are, however, not "free to play".
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding commented: "Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model, and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organizations." Commissioner Neven Mimica considers these conditions dangerous both for consumers and the credibility of Europe's app economy, a “very promising market”. She believes that coming up with "concrete solutions" after the discussion will be a "win-win for all."
A document containing the common positions of the Consumer Protection Cooperation and EC member countries gives more insight on the eventual restrictions. They resonate with an earlier initiative from this year by Britain's Office Of Fair Trading. The CPC proposes: usage of the word "free" only in games that are free in their entirety; elimination of coercive expressions, such as "buy now!" or "upgrade now!"; forbidding purchases to be made without the consumer's explicit consent; and providing consumers with the trader's e-mail address for queries.
The meetings are an opportunity for the Commission and Member State authorities to reach a common understanding with the industry to address these concerns. In any case, however, the European Commission and relevant enforcement authorities will follow up regulation breaches with the necessary action.