AAPL Stock: 118.04 ( + 0.01 )

Printed from

EU: Apple failing to make 'true cost of apps' clear on App Store [U]

updated 06:34 pm EDT, Fri July 18, 2014

Company yet to offer commitment, details for required changes

[Updated with Apple rebuttal] Despite both Apple and Google being asked to take measures to make the "true cost of apps" clearer before they're downloaded from an app store, Apple is providing "no firm commitment and no timing" for action, according to a statement from the European Commission. At issue are so-called "free-to-play" or "freemium" apps, which are technically free to use, but often require in-app purchases to make real use of them. Some games, in particular, have exploited lax authorization measures around those purchases to lure children into buying dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of dollars' worth of digital content without their parents' consent.

"Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation," the Commission writes. "Apple has proposed to address those concerns. However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes. CPC [consumer protection co-operation] authorities will continue to engage with Apple to ensure that it provides specific details of changes required and put its practices into line with the common position."

In response, an Apple spokesman insists that the company does "more than others," and that "these controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry." The spokesman points to features coming up in iOS 8, particularly the Ask to Buy component of Family Sharing, which allows parents to block app purchases without their permission.

[Update] The full statement from Apple reads as follows: "Apple takes great pride in leading the industry in parental controls that are incredibly easy to use and help ensure a great experience for parents and children on the App Store. The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable. And over the last year, we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked."

"We've also created a Kids Section on the App Store with even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13," the statement continues. "These controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry."

"But we are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we're adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store. Our goal is to continue to provide the best experience for our customers and we will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns."

The "Ask to Buy" feature mentioned in the statement refers to a feature within the new "Family Sharing" portion of iOS 8 that allows families to "link" separate Apple IDs (even special children's accounts which will be allowed with parental permission) so that members can share content, purchases, photos, calendars and use services like Find My Friends and Find My iPhone to locate family members or iOS devices on a map. "Ask to Buy" will be a setting invoked by parents that blocks any in-app or regular iTunes purchases without verifiable permission from the cardholder or authorized parent.

Google has meanwhile confirmed that it will be making a variety of changes to Google Play in September. Apple has only laid out a broad "fall" timeline for iOS 8 (though it is expected around the same time as Google's changes), which may be one reason for the Commission's complaint. The company is typically resistant to giving out details on upcoming products, even when they might alleviate legal concerns. It is also sometimes hesitant to make changes solely to meet regulations -- one example being European AppleCare plans, which ultimately got the company fined in Italy.

by MacNN Staff



  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I'm not absolving either Apple or Google from doing a better job of managing this, but it floors me that it rises to the level of governmental oversight for a behavior that is simply poor parental control...of their children with something no less than a highly sophisticated communication device!

    I know...I'm a father of 4, of which 2 have iPhones. But the iTune accounts are on my credit card, with my Apple ID/PW, and therefore, no purchases can be made until I approve it. Sure, it's a tedious pain for all but over time they've learned to curb their purchases, work with limited gift cards, and understand what I will and will not allow. At this point, I'm rarely getting purchase requests from them, and even less in objecting to what they ask. More importantly, I know they will better understand the cost/consequences/responsibilities of these actions when they have the means to purchase for themselves.

    Thank you and I'll now step down from the soapbox

  1. qazwart

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-10-01

    The Apple app stores shows you in the top in app purchases and how much they cost. How much is the true cost?. For example, Jetpack Joyride is perfectly playable without buying a single in app purchase although the in app purchases make it easier to get to higher levels without building up your skill level. Other games are impossible to play without an in app purchase. But who is going to make that judgement? Both Apple and Google now control app purchases a bit better. With iOS 8, the system can even be more tightly control.

  1. Grendelmon

    Senior User

    Joined: 12-26-07

    I got so tired of dealing with the IAP bullshit that I just ended up buying a 3DS. There is just so much more value in a $30 title that you KNOW you will never have to pony up for "gems", "credits", or "gold."

  1. Raman

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 03-15-01

    Hows this different from the Shareware apps of yesteryear or the new vernacular "Free to Download" software?

  1. I-ku-u

    Junior Member

    Joined: 08-08-11

    Sigh, the problem with this tactic of determining "the true cost" of an app is that determining whether an in app purchase is necessary is provably equivalent in complexity to the halting problem. In other words, it's very, very hard for Apple to determine it from examining a submitted app.

    The best Apple could do is require the developer to disclose the app's design makes in-app purchases likely or necessary - i.e. pass the buck to the developer.

  1. JohnFromBeyond

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-05-07

    PairOf9s -- I second everything you said. Why does the government need to step in to make up for poor parenting? I have 3 kids with iDevices and haven't had a penny spent without me approving it.

    Should they now attack Windows PC makers because they aren't revealing the true cost of ownership, to combat malware and viruses?

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Parent here as well - I also have no issues preventing in-app purchases. I've got a pretty good rule. The kids don't get to use anything I don't have a decent handle on how it works, or how to fix it.

    This is why I laugh at all the "Timmy spent $2k on Smurfberries" stories that used to pop up with alarming frequency. Not that hard to stop.

  1. jdonahoe

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 07-05-06

    Another parent here and I also believe this is a parenting issue. I have never had a credit card assigned to my iTunes account and neither do my kids. They get itunes cards for birthdays and holidays and when they run out they're gone. Even if someone hijacked my account, they wouldn't get more than $20, right now, much less. iTunes cards are the way to go.

  1. jdonahoe

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 07-05-06

    Another aspect of giving a kid an iTunes card, at least in our case, is they will be very discriminating when it comes to purchases.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    Raman, shareware was different because you typically didn't pay over and over to use it. Either you used it in its free form, or you paid to unlock the entire thing once.

  1. rtamesis

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-10-00

    Welcome to the nanny state in Europe, where the government acts like your mom.

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    Actually, this could be very easily stopped. Simply ban app developers from describing features which are only available as in-app purchases in publicity materials, including the screenshots and written descriptions of the app.

    If your app suddenly gets described as "your can control a character who walks around on a map", then people won't want to buy it.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Vicar: I like that idea very much.

    As for the government interference, the answer to the question of why that becomes necessary is because when "poor parenting" becomes an epidemic as it has in some areas these days, this has a huge impact on everyone, including you. Same reason the government "interferes" tremendously with cigarettes; the costs and impact of having to treat the results of smoking (drunk driving, etc) falls on all taxpayers rather heavily, not just the people who ignored the warnings. I'm not sure IAP abuse has reached that level, but its starting to become such a problem (ie products that just DON'T WORK without hidden IAP requirements) that governments must insist on either much clearer labelling or other actions to prevent developers from abusing the system.

    Apple has done what they can, particularly with the "Family Sharing" feature in iOS 8 which is rather clever. I think the Vicar's idea would help a lot as well. But bottom line -- kids don't have money on their own, so the ultimate responsibility here falls squarely on the parents. If you're giving your under-teen children access to a credit card, you're playing with fire and will probably get burned. Giving kids who can understand a better picture of how money works along with strict supervision of tools such as iPads and iPhones (and a little time spent taking an interest in what your children are interested in/obsessed with) will probably give you results like the parents who've weighed in on this thread so far.

  1. And.reg

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 02-22-04

    Gee, and what did the EU have to say about technologically-inept parents?

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    People are idiots and are not really understanding what the EU is saying here.

    The fact that there is a *possible* avenue to stop your kids from doing this, doesn't equate to "problem solved." The fact that through searching the App database and carefully reading all the 8 point light grey on white text, you can technically find out if an app uses in app purchases also doesn't equate to "problem solved." Only an idiot would think so.

    Anyone here who downloads lots of apps that says they have never downloaded an app thinking that it was already paid for, only to find out that in app purchases were involved is almost certainly stretching the truth. It's unreasonable to expect even computer experts to do the kind of diligence required and most of us have been fooled once or twice.

    The fact is, a "freemium" app, is NOT a "free" app, and there is a certain deception in labelling it as such and including it in lists of "free" apps as the app store currently does.

    The practice of in-app purchases is new, and probably based on the long tradition of buying "cheats" or cheat codes, in the gaming community. The trouble is the gaming community now includes many more people (larger than the original group) who are unaware of this concept. "Regular" people who, quite understandably, believe that "free" means that the game is free.

    "Freemium" apps should be in their own category at absolute minimum. Considering the fact that the in-app purchase adds nothing from the user end, and only adds profit to the developer, we should consider just not allowing the apps at all. They are for the most part purposeful deceptions.

  1. aviamquepasa

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-22-11

    Apps for children are the worse. Even if you have bought them for your children, they constantly get advertisements very easy to click and therefore there is always the danger that they end in the shit appstore waiting for still another purchase.
    At the end I have stopped borrowing the tablet to the children, too dangerous. Crap apps. Crap tablet.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Good news, you can start loaning it to them again. There's parental controls to turn off all in-app purchasing, there's not telling your kids your iTunes password, there's not linking any funding source to the iTunes account they use, and coming in iOS 8 there's the aforementioned "Ask to Buy" feature in iOS 8 when that comes out in the fall.

    When I was a kid and I didn't like what my parents served for dinner, I didn't use their money to go buy a Happy Meal. There's a source of this "problem" and it is, in fact, the parent who gives children access to funds. Apple can do some things to help (and could do more about predatory IAPs aimed at kids), but it can't make up for lax parenting.

Login Here

Not a member of the MacNN forums? Register now for free.


Network Headlines

Follow us on Facebook


Most Popular


Recent Reviews

Ultimate Ears Megaboom Bluetooth Speaker

Ultimate Ears (now owned by Logitech) has found great success in the marketplace with its "Boom" series of Bluetooth speakers, a mod ...

Kinivo URBN Premium Bluetooth Headphones

We love music, and we're willing to bet that you do, too. If you're like us, you probably spend a good portion of your time wearing ...

Jamstik+ MIDI Controller

For a long time the MIDI world has been dominated by keyboard-inspired controllers. Times are changing however, and we are slowly star ...


Most Commented