In-app purchases under the microscope

The NSW government takes Apple to task over sneaky in-app purchases.
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01.Shonky Apple app


We like to think our 2011 Shonky award for the “free” downloadable app, Smurf’s Village, served as a wake-up call for parents and children alike. 

It gave kids free Smurfberries until they were hooked, then demanded a high price for every berry thereafter – generally paid for with mum’s or dad’s credit card. The app definitely deserved a lemon.

In the digital realm, of course, there’s always more shonky activity waiting in the wings. Fortunately, the NSW government has now caught on and is taking particular aim at Apple, which reportedly gets a 30% cut of the revenue generated by every download it sponsors. 

The NSW Minister for Fair Trading, Anthony Roberts, said today that consumer regulators are looking at ways to put a stop to parental bill shock resulting from in-app purchases. Apple’s highhanded advice that parents simply opt out when the game demands money or adjust the settings accordingly misses an important point: it’s not the parents who are playing the game.

The Fair Trading office agrees, saying Apple’s deal-with-it-yourself defence is “unacceptable”. Roberts’ remarks come on the heels of a class action in the US, where parents have banded together to mount a case against Apple on the grounds that apps designed to lure kids into paying are deceptive and misleading. He says he’s written to Apple about the issue, but the company did not extend the courtesy of a reply.

Roberts also took the opportunity today to highlight a related and equally systemic issue: price disparity between Apple products – including apps – in the US and Australia. 

“Australians shouldn’t have to set up accounts in the US to get the cheapest price for Apple products,” Roberts said. 

“It’s a global market and it should be a fair market.” As for Apple’s app businesses: “It’s a fruitful endeavour for Apple, but comes at a high price for parents.”

Stay tuned for CHOICE’s latest round of Shonky awards, coming in late October.



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