Free App Games Can Cost In The Real World
More and more people are discovering that so-called ‘free’ games downloaded to mobile devices can cost a small fortune. Parents are puzzled when charged hundreds and even thousands of dollars from a ‘free’ game only to discover their child had ‘bought’ awards in a game in real world money not virtual currency.
Good news. Help is on the way. In the US Apple has had to refund $37 million to consumers to settle a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission for making it too easy for kids to rack up massive charges on a mobile applications (app) without parental permission. Apple made $10 billion last year from its app store. Apple agreed to modify its practices.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning app providers it will strictly enforce existing consumer laws which protect people from ripoffs and scams. It will also bring in new guidelines to cover the growing app industry.
The ACCC looked at 340 game apps in Google Play and Apple app stores and found less than 25 per cent of the child-friendly games had properly revealed that real world money could be used to advance in the virtual games. In some games, children only had to tap on an image in the game to make the purchase, not realising mum or dad would be slugged real money. Many apps only disclosed terms and conditions once the games were downloaded.
The ACCC urges app operators to follow new principles for apps, including:
*inform consumers upfront about any costs or advertising
*prominently disclose important information prior to download
*ensure account holders, such as parents, have given informed consent to payments, otherwise they are deemed unauthorised.
The ACCC advises those who discover unexpected app bills suddenly appearing on their credit cards, mobile phone bills or Google/Apple accounts to contact the app store to request a refund, the bank to challenge unauthorised charges on credit cards or the mobile phone company to challenge a charge on the bill.
If there is no luck there, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to register a complaint. Be armed with details of dates of calls made, person you spoke to and responses. The TIO is there to help resolve disputes.
Independent legal advice could be helpful if you think you have been deceived or ripped off by the app operator and they have broken consumer laws.
Most important of all – be aware of the risks in ‘free’ app games and keep an eye on what your kids do with them. Safeguard passwords and consider using debit cards online rather than credit cards to limit potential payouts.