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Europe: Apple. Google. Yes, you. Get in here. It's about these in-app bills

Justice watchdog demands 'concrete answers' after parents stung by charges

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The European Commission (EC) has asked Apple and Google to send over some execs for meetings this week on reforming in-app payment systems.

The EC wants to shake up the practice of in-game purchases by developers, which have in the past misled users, inflated bills, and circumvented parental controls on applications aimed at kids. Seeing as Apple and Google run the online App Store and Play Store, respectively, the European Union's executive body wants a word.

"Europe’s app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth ... Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection," Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, said today. "The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations."

The commission said the meetings are not intending to be a formal confrontation or hearing, but rather a chance to sit down with software makers and app store operators and work out guidelines and set the groundwork for rules on how in-app purchases are managed and presented to users. Various bodies are invited including the UK's Office of Fair Trading and The Interactive Software Federation of Europe.

The call for a cosy chat comes after EU member nations issued reports [PDF] condemning the practices some mobile developers have used with their "freemium" and in-app purchases systems, such as tying key game features to purchases or targeting children to make purchases without parental notification or permission.

"Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases," EC commissioner of consumer policy Neven Mimica added today.

"National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market."

Apple has already had its own dealings with the US government over similar concerns. Earlier this year the company agreed to pay out more than $32m in refunds to parents whose children had racked up unexpected charges on their iOS devices.

That settlement, brokered by the FTC, alleged that the company did not clearly explain its parental control system to customers, allowing kids to blow their parents' credit cards on virtual gems and similar tat in games. Some useless items cost as much as $99 a pop.

The EC said that such controls, along with other issues, should be tightened to help prevent unwanted or unauthorized purchases on in-app and freemium modeled games. ®

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