By Luke Baker
BRUSSELS Feb 27 The European Commission
announced plans on Thursday to tackle one of the scourges of the
modern age - games on tablets and mobile phones that allow
adults and children to rack up vast credit card bills by making
After concerns were raised by consumer groups in Denmark,
Britain, Italy and Belgium, the Commission will hold talks with
the industry, policymakers and consumer protection authorities
on Thursday and Friday to consider clearer guidelines.
The main concern is that games are often labelled as "free
to download" but are not "free to play", with purchases
automatically debited from a registered credit card. More than
half of online games in the EU are advertised as "free", the
Commission says, despite many carrying hidden costs.
"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model
and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer
protection," said the EU's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding.
"The European Commission will expect very concrete answers
from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and
national consumer organisations."
Europe's "app" industry has grown exponentially in recent
years as the use of smart phones and tablets has boomed,
allowing consumers to access games and applications on the run.
The EU market is expected to be worth 63 billion euros ($86
billion) within the next five years, according to figures from
the Commission. Users in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain,
the Netherlands and Belgium spent an estimated 16.5 billion
euros on online games in 2011 alone.
Many of those playing the games are children and teenagers,
who often end up charging fees to the registered credit card
without realising it or without parental approval. Adults often
make the same mistake, but must take responsibility.
In one case in Britain, an 8-year-old girl managed to run up
a bill of 4,000 pounds ($6,700) making "in-app" purchases from
games such as My Horse and Smurfs' Village. In that instance,
Apple reimbursed the girl's father.
"Consumers, and in particular children, need better
protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases," said
Neven Mimica, the European commissioner for consumer policy.
In-app purchases can be disabled on most mobile devices.
Among the proposals to be discussed are clearer explanations
in games about the costs involved, removing inducements to make
purchases such as "Buy now!" and "Upgrade now!" and preventing
payments being debited without explicit consent.
The meeting will also discuss whether companies should
provide an email address that allows consumers to contact them
immediately with any queries or complaints.
Among the companies taking part are Apple and Google
, alongside consumer protection agencies from Denmark,
Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania and Luxembourg.