Google has agreed to pay full refunds totalling at least $19 million US to consumers who were charged for purchases that children made via apps without parental consent from the Google Play app store.
The settlement is part of the third case by the Federal Trade Commission about unauthorized in-app purchases made my children. It settled with Apple for $32.5 million in January and it filed a complaint against Amazon in July.
In Google's case, the FTC said that since 2011, consumers reported hundreds of dollars of unauthorized charges by children made within kids' apps such as Ice Age Village and Air Penguins downloaded from the Google Play store. The charges range from 99 cents to $200.
No password protection
According to the FTC complaint, when Google first introduced in-app charges to the Google Play in 2011, they were not password protected. As a result, children could buy virtual items just by clicking on popup boxes within an app while they used it. In mid- to late-2012, Google instituted a pop-up box that asked for a password before a payment could be made but that opened up a 30-minute window during which a password wasn't required.
"For millions of American families, smartphones and tablets have become a part of their daily lives," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "As more Americans embrace mobile technology, it's vital to remind companies that time-tested consumer protections still apply, including that consumers should not be charged for purchases they did not authorize."
The settlement will require Google to provide full refunds of unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children of at least $19 million within 12 months after the settlement becomes final.
Not applicable in Canada
Google says the ruling applies only in the U.S.
A Google spokesperson said the company has already reacted to complaints and changed Google Play.
"We've already made these product changes to ensure people have the best Google Play experience possible. We're glad to put this matter behind us so we can focus on creating more ways for people to enjoy all the entertainment they love,” a statement from the company said.
Google is required to change its billing practices to obtain express, informed consent from consumers before billing them for in-app charges.